DEMOCRACY has not made much headway of late, especially in the developing world, so the result of this week's presidential election in the Maldives are worth a moment's attention. Mahmoud Abdul Gayoom has ruled this archipelago of 1'200 islands in the Indian Ocean for the last 30 years, winning six uncontested elections during that period. However violent protests against his dictatorship in 2005 persuaded Mr Gayoom that democracy should be given a chance. He may have been persuaded of the wisdom of this course by the fact that the Maldives' principal industry of luxury tourism might be frightened away by a restive population.
The new president is Mohammad Anni Nasheed, who was named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International when president Gayoom imprisoned him for six years until he was given political asylum in Britain in 2004. Nasheed now heads a group of five opposition parties that took 54 per cent of the vote against Gayoom's 46 per cent. In a hopeful sign for the Maldives' future, Nasheem said that he wanted no witch-hunt over his earlier imprisonment and Gayoom congratulated him on his victory and the introduction of a new age of democracy. There may be several other despots in the world who have ruled for 30 years - one of them, of course, is Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. He shows no sign of giving up, despite losing an election. Perhaps former president Gayoom should have a word with him.