An ally of President Abdulla Yameen had petitioned the Supreme Court on Thursday seeking a delay of Saturday's polls, arguing that a depleted Elections Commission may not be able to conduct the vote.
    
But with no court decision announced, the election is going ahead as scheduled, Election Commission official Aishath Reema said.

"Balloting will be conducted over an eight hour period across the country," Reema said.
    
Polling began at 8 am (0830 IST) and will end at 4 pm. Scores of voters were seen outside the polling stations as the Maldives parliamentary elections commenced here on Saturday morning.

"We are hoping for very peaceful voting and a free and fair election," said Mohammad Waheed, an official in one of the voting stations here.

Former president Mohamed Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party is the front-runner but observers were doubtful if any single party will be able to take the assembly.
    
The head of the Election Commission and his deputy were both sacked on March 9 for "disobeying" a Supreme Court order to adjourn part of last year's presidential election, which was eventually won by Yameen in November.
    
Yameen questioned whether the commission now had the ability to conduct a free and fair poll for the 85-seat Parliament given that two of its five positions were now vacant.
    
"The commission barely meets the quorum (of three) to hold an election of such importance," Yameen told a rally in Male on Thursday night.
        
The sacking of two top election officials nearly two weeks ago has reopened the controversy over last year's presidential election when the Supreme Court annulled the results of a first round won by Nasheed and then cancelled two other polls at the last minute.
    
Yameen won the November 16 presidential run-off, five years after the island nation introduced multi-party democracy.
    
Western nations as well as neighbouring India have said they were closely following developments in a country where recent political unrest has dented its image as a honeymoon paradise for tourists. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for peaceful and credible elections.

There are a total of 302 candidates, including 23 women, vying for 85 constituencies. Of these, capital Male holds the largest number of constituencies at 13, with seven in Addu city and the remaining 65 scattered across various atolls. There are also five voting stations abroad with two in Sri Lanka and India and one in Malaysia. There are also five voting stations in prisons. There are 240,652 eligible voters.

JPN/Agencies

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