Anxious Maldives holds breath as top court gears up to hear election challenge

September 23 was supposed to be the day of the Maldivian people. Arguably the only day, the people have a say on the country, embroiled in political turmoil amid unprecedented corruption, jailing of political leaders and restrictions on fundamental rights.

The tiny yet regionally significant Indian Ocean archipelago, has seen political tensions escalate as incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom jailed or exiled all his main opponents during his tumultuous five-year term.

He also declared an emergency earlier this year and had his half-brother and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom arrested along with two top court judges after the Supreme Court ordered the release the several jailed opposition leaders.

Despite opposition fears of rigging in favour of the government, people stood in the rain for hours to cast their votes as Yameen went head to head against the opposition alliance candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih who had been backed by the four leaders including the elder Gayoom and self-exiled former president Nasheed who had been barred from the standing for office on a contentious terrorism conviction.

Yameen lost the September 23 election by a margin of 16 percent to opposition alliance candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, in an outcome hailed as a win for democracy in the crisis-hit archipelago.

The result was widely accepted, including by the United States, China, India, and the European Union.

Yameen conceded defeat a day after the election but has since alleged widespread irregularities in the vote.

The president, who says he will stay on in office until the end of his term on November 17, has offered little evidence to back his claim.

The Supreme Court hearing is due to start at 1:00 pm (0800 GMT) in the luxury tourist destination which is also at the centre of a tussle for influence between India and China.

Yameen had wielded influence over the country's judiciary during his term in office, but his election defeat has seen the country's top court overturn the disqualifications of four lawmakers which was designed to maintain Yameen's control over the parliament.

Recent court rulings releasing or granting bail to top opposition officials also suggest that the tide may have turned.

Despite the recent change and the outlandish allegations made by Yameen, how the Supreme Court would rule would be anyone's guess.