COLOMBO, March 29 (Reuters) - Exiled former Maldives leader Mohamed Nasheed called on Wednesday for commissions on an independent judiciary and free elections to be set up to help ensure a fair presidential vote next year in the Indian Ocean island nation.
The Maldives has suffered from political unrest since Nasheed, its first democratically elected leader, was ousted in disputed circumstances in 2012.
He lost the 2013 election to President Abdulla Yameen by a narrow margin and was later convicted of terrorism and sentenced to 13 years in jail, but allowed to go abroad for medical treatment early last year and now lives in exile in London.
“Selecting a candidate is not a concern, but (endowing) the system with independent judiciary and election commissions is the most important task before the election,” Nasheed told Reuters in an interview with Reuters in Colombo.
“We at least need some kind of proper system for free and fair elections. There is a view in the Maldives that any candidate can beat Yameen if we have a free and fair election.”
Nasheed said he has been seeking international support to pressure Yameen to establish the independent commissions.
The next presidential vote is expected in the second half of 2018, but Nasheed needs a presidential pardon to contest it as has been convicted of terrorism charges, which he denied.
The Maldives judiciary drew international criticism after a number of opposition leaders including Nasheed were sentenced for alleged terrorism offences. International rights groups have said the judicial process was flawed and politically motivated.
Nasheed spoke two days after the opposition coalition failed in a bid to impeach the parliament speaker and take control of the assembly.
Most of Yameen’s opponents who might challenge him in 2018 have been arrested for alleged security offences. The opposition alleges his administration is trying to cover up corruption including money laundering. The government denies this and says it does not influence law enforcement.
The largely Muslim island chain with a population of 400,000 has other problems marring its reputation as a tourist paradise. Significant numbers of radicalised Maldives youths have enlisted to fight for Islamic State militants in the Middle East. (Reporting by Shihar Aneez; editing by Mark Heinrich)