MALE, Maldives - Opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed topped Saturday’s bitterly-fought presidential elections, but failed to secure a clear majority needed to avoid a tricky run-off, official results showed.

Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) immediately pressed for a quick second round of voting on Sunday as previously scheduled as his main challenger Abdulla Yameen asked for a postponement. The MDP urged the international community to mount pressure on Maldivian authorities to stick to the ballot timetable and ensure an elected president is sworn in by the constitutional deadline of Monday. “The international community must apply pressure - including targeted, punitive sanctions  - on those individuals who seek to undermine Maldivian democracy,” the party said in a statement. Yameen told reporters that he was not ready to face a run-off Sunday and wanted at least 48 hours to prepare.

“I am not ready to accept the voter lists and we need at least 48 hours to approve them,” Yameen said. “A run-off election can be after that.” Chief Elections Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek had announced the run-off for Sunday. However, it was not immediately clear if he could go ahead as a previous election was scuttled because Yameen and Saturday’s loser Qasim Ibrahim refused to approve voter lists, a legal requirement in the Maldives. Nasheed received just under 46 percent of the popular vote and faces Yameen, the half brother of former autocrat, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who garnered 31 percent of the vote. Ibrahim, a resort tycoon, came last with 24 percent and was thrown out of the run-off.

The MDP argues that unless an election is held Sunday, the country could head for a constitutional crisis without a leader, but the Supreme Court Saturday ruled that outgoing President Mohamed Waheed can remain as a caretaker.

Nasheed, who was ousted as president nearly two years ago in what he called a coup, sought to win an outright majority Saturday, but just managed to retain the same level of support he had at the now annulled September 7 polls.

The latest election was observed by more than 2,000 local and foreign monitors across the archipelago of 1,192 tiny coral islands and they did not report any electoral malpractice.

The Maldives, whose turquoise seas and white beaches have long been a tourist draw, has been the focus of intense US-led diplomatic pressure since judges annulled results of the September 7 vote which was also won by Nasheed.

When new polls were scuppered six weeks later, suspicions grew that authorities were determined to prevent Nasheed from returning to power at any price.

The 46-year-old — a one-time political prisoner and environmental activist — won the first multi-party elections in 2008, ending 30 years of iron-fisted rule by Gayoom.

But after clashing with key institutions, including the judiciary and security forces, he was forced to resign in February 2012.

Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) accused unidentified attackers of trying to firebomb his house Friday night, but said the attempt failed because of rain.

PPM leader and Youth Minister Mohamed Shareef predicted legal challenges regardless of who won the election.

“Given the high stakes involved, irrespective of who wins, there’ll be a lot of anger, frustration and finger pointing,” Shareef said. “I hope it won’t lead to violence.”

A host of Western diplomats had flown in to seek to ensure no hitches in the vote in a nation of 350,000 Sunni Muslims.

During his rule, Gayoom packed the judiciary and security forces with supporters, and there are suspicions that even if Nasheed wins, he could still be thwarted.

“I still have doubts he will be allowed to take power,” a European diplomat told AFP before the results were known.