AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
COLOMBO: President Mohamed Waheed of the Maldives, accused of seizing power in a military-backed coup, faced his first popularity test on Saturday when voting was held in two key by-elections.
Waheed is not directly fielding candidates but has publicly endorsed members of his coalition partners for the Thimarafushi and Kaashidhoo constituencies.
The two islands outside the capital, Male, will elect two representatives to the 77-member People's Majlis, or parliament, the elections commission said.
Nearly 6,000 voters were eligible to cast ballots Saturday.
The by-elections were called after the country's highest court recently disqualified the MPs elected in elections in 2009.
Former president Mohamed Nasheed, who stepped down in February, has claimed that he was forced to resign following a military coup which was backed by his then deputy, Waheed, who went on to succeed him.
Waheed has denied allegations that he was involved in any coup and has ordered a government investigation into Nasheed's controversial exit from office.
Results of Saturday's polls, which were being keenly contested by Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party, were expected late Saturday, officials said.
Colombo-based diplomats, who are also accredited to Male, said Saturday's vote was a crucial test for Waheed who has promised early presidential elections to end a political crisis after Nasheed's resignation.
Nasheed became the first democratically elected leader in the Maldives following the nation's inaugural multi-party elections in October 2008. However, the 2009 legislative elections led to a hung parliament.
Sarturday's vote is unlikely to change the impasse in parliament. Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party is the largest single group with 32 seats while the DRP, a party launched by former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom controls 24.