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The most interesting political race you’re not following
Christine Quinn's faltering campaign could use some of the Maldives' electoral magic
 
Candidate Mohamed Nasheed may face a few supernatural obstacles in his campaign for president.
Candidate Mohamed Nasheed may face a few supernatural obstacles in his campaign for president. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

There's just one day to go before the presidential election in the Maldives, and the candidates in the Indian Ocean archipelago nation are going to extreme lengths to secure a win.

First, the candidates. They include Gasim Ibrahim, a massively wealthy tycoon; Mohamed Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected president, who was ousted in a 2012 coup; and the man he accused of orchestrating it, his former veep and incumbent President Mohammed Waheed.

Nasheed was fairly popular during his term, and is the favorite to win. In a bid to avoid a run-off, he has been frantically signing 1,400 letters an hour — and that's signed with his own hand, not an autopen like the letters you get from your congressman. Nasheed says he wants to mail a personal letter to each of the country's 239,593 voters.

"I don't think a printed version is appropriate," he told The Minivan News. "I'm trying to reach out to the normal Maldives person. I've met them, I've touched them, I've visited their homes, and finally I want to write them a letter."

But his opponents may be summoning a force that could be difficult for Nasheed to reckon with: Black magic. The Maldives has been Sunni Muslim for centuries, but the old traditional beliefs are still there. "Black magic is often used to prevent people from voting or influence them on the islands," according to The Independent.

Voters cried foul this week after finding a coconut inscribed with a Koranic verse left next to a polling booth. In that particular case, a white magic practitioner examined the coconut and said it had no magical powers.

Still, other inscribed coconuts have been turning up all week. The chief exorcist from the Spiritual Healers of the Maldives, Ajnaadh Ali, said that's because "coconuts represent a life structure, like eggs." Black magicians use those objects "to gain votes and make people ill," he explains.

"The black magic will attack them mentally, by demanding the individual think a certain way even if they would normally know something is bad," he says. "It makes them blind in the mind."

There's a lot at stake in this election. The Maldives has been in upheaval since the coup, with sporadic protests and violence. The country was originally a sultanate, then a British protectorate, before winning independence in 1965. For decades it was ruled by autocratic President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, until 2008, when he allowed other candidates to run. Since then, the country has had its fair share of trouble, says The Guardian:

There has also been rapid economic development and wide-reaching social change. Though portrayed in tourist literature as an island paradise, the Maldives suffers high levels of unemployment, severe environmental problems, overcrowding, drug abuse as well as a new gang culture and rising crime. [The Guardian]

 
Susan Caskie is The Week's international editor and was a member of the team that launched The Week's U.S. print edition. She has worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Transitions magazine, and UN Wire, and reads a bunch of languages.

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