Maldives sank further into political disarray Saturday when police blocked officials from conducting a presidential revote, saying that holding the election would violate a Supreme Court order.
It's the latest blow to this young Indian Ocean democracy, which has only about three weeks before the end of the current president's term. If his replacement is not elected by then it will spark a constitutional crisis.
The top court annulled the results of the Sept. 7 presidential election, agreeing with a losing candidate that the voters' registry included fictitious names and dead people, but it set conditions for a revote that police said elections officials did not meet.
Elections Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek attempted to hold the election as scheduled, but on Saturday morning he said the ground floor of his building was full of policemen stopping his staff from carrying election material outside. He then called the election off.
A police officer said the election was stopped because the commissioner has not complied with a court order to have the voters' list endorsed by all the candidates. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to reporters.
Thowfeek accused the police of crossing their legitimate role.
"We are very much concerned about what is going on in this country. The Supreme Court decision does not ask police officers to look into the voters' list and check what is there..." Thowfeek told reporters.
"They kind of think they can be our bosses and we are an institution below them, they can dictate to us and control us," said Thowfeek.
Maldives' capital, Male, appeared calm early Saturday, with people still waking up to the news.
Two of the three presidential candidates did not sign the voters list Friday, saying it needed to be verified for any irregularities, but Thowfeek had said their demands for double-checking the list were impossible to meet in time for the election.
The Supreme Court said in its ruling annulling the September election that a revote must take place before Sunday. It likely will need to issue a new ruling in order for an election to be held before President Mohamed Waheed Hassan's term ends Nov. 11.
Thowfeek had announced earlier Saturday that he would hold the election on the court's advice, despite the fact that not all candidates had endorsed the list of voters. However, he said later the court did not specifically advise that he conduct the election, but instead asked him to follow the original guidelines, which is open to interpretation.
The Maldives became a democracy five years ago after 30 years of autocratic rule and has had a difficult transition.
Its first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, was forced to resign last year midway through his term after he ordered the arrest of a senior judge he perceived as corrupt and partial. Nasheed says he was forced out of power by a coup, though an inquiry commission has dismissed his claim.
The country's institutions like the judiciary, police and public service are often perceived as partial and dominated by those loyal to the country's former autocratic leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who lost to Nasheed in 2008.
Nasheed, who finished first in the September balloting but did not win the majority of votes needed to avoid a runoff, had endorsed the voter list. The other candidates did not: Yaamin Abdul Gayoom, a brother of Maumoon, and businessman Qasim Ibrahim, who challenged the first-round result in court.
After Saturday's election was called off, Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, a spokesman for Nasheed, accused the judiciary and police of being the pawns of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and called for international engagement to have an election soon. Others also decried the canceled vote.
"This clearly undermines the democracy and violates the people's right to vote," said Mohamed Visham, editor of local daily Haveeru.
But he added that the election setbacks won't discourage Maldivians from believing in democracy.
"All hope is not lost. There is still time to have an election before November 11."