MALE  - Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed lost runoff elections held in the Indian Ocean nation on Saturday, despite being the front-runner going into the polls, results showed. Abdulla Yameen, the half brother of the country’s former strongman, defeated Nasheed, securing 51.3 percent of the popular vote in a bitterly fought election, the results said.

Nasheed secured 48.6 percent, with over 98 percent of all of the votes counted, Elections Commission results showed. Yameen’s 7,000-vote lead could not be erased even if all of the ballots that still need to be counted went to Nasheed, according to commission data. The election has been fraught with delays and accusations of political interference after a series of previous attempts to elect a new leader for the honeymoon destination were annulled or cancelled.

Polling organisers said they had hoped to name a winner of a run-off contest Saturday amid increasing international pressure to elect a new president and end the political turmoil that has gripped the tourism-destination nation. After an annulled election result and two cancelled polls, foreign diplomats have increasingly viewed delays as politically motivated. The European Union warned of “appropriate measures” if Saturday’s election did not go ahead. Opposition leader Nasheed, a former pro-democracy campaigner who won the first free polls in 2008, had been the frontrunner 21 months after he resigned under pressure from demonstrations and mutinous police officers.

But he was defeated by Yameen, the half-brother of former autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the archipelago famed for its coral-fringed islands for 30 years.

Polling stations began closing at 1100 GMT, the commission said, although people still queing were allowed to vote. The islands’ electorate is a mere 239,000 people. “Everyone is highly anticipating the time when a new president is elected. And so, we are trying to announce the permanent results by very early tomorrow morning,” Elections Commission Fuwad Thowfeek had said earlier in the day on national television.

“We will be able to share that joy with the citizens by tomorrow.” Officials said there were queues outside some of the 475 polling booths scattered across the islands when voting for the two candidates began earlier Saturday.