MALE, Maldives (AP) — The Maldives — more than 1,100 islands scattered across the Indian Ocean — are sharply divided along political lines. The first democratically elected president insists his former deputy helped force him out in a coup d'etat. And the brother of the longtime dictator of the country, where widespread unemployment exists alongside some of the world's most expensive beach resorts, now wants to be president himself.
Few hope that Saturday's presidential elections will soothe the divisions that have inflamed the archipelago since last year, when former President Mohamed Nasheed resigned amid a standoff with security forces and widespread protests.
"Even families are divided and some are not on talking terms," said Mohamed Visham, editor of local English daily Haveeru. He said the new leader will have to shift attention away from the political divide and toward issues like economic development and infrastructure.
The Maldives had its first democratic presidential elections just five years ago, after 30 years of dictatorship under Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Most of its public institutions, from the police to the public service commission and the courts, are widely seen as political partisan, and it is believed that most government workers continue to support Gayoom.
"This could be the key election for democracy and institution-building-up," said Aiman Rasheed, a spokesman for Transparency Maldives, an independent political monitor. "There are tensions between the security forces and the opposition, and the judiciary is being called into question."
Some in the Maldives question whether democracy has helped at all.
"We had been a united country working together," before 2008, said 18-year-old Mohamed Shahudan. "It's no longer so."
Known to the outside world for its luxurious resorts and beautiful beaches, the country made political headlines last year when Nasheed resigned in the face of public protests, and after losing support from the military and police.