Initial counting of a referendum in the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago Maldives showed that more than 60 percent voters favored a United States-style presidential form and a little more than 30 percent liked a Britain-style parliamentary system.
Chief government spokesman Mohamed Hussain Shareef told Xinhua by telephone from the Maldivian capital of Male that as of 8:30 a. m. (0330 GMT) on Sunday 79,513 votes had been counted and 52,969 voters were in favor of a presidential form while 26,544 chose a parliamentary system.
Shareef said 300 voting boxes, or two-thirds of the total, have been opened and counted, adding that the final result will be available later Sunday or early Monday.
He said more than 70 percent of the 193,000 voters cast their votes on Saturday to decide whether the country should follow a presidential form or a parliamentary system in future.
"It is a landmark in Maldives's democracy as the people decide the future of the country by their votes," Shareef said.
He expressed confidence that Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's party, the DRP (Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party) will win the referendum.
Analysts say the referendum is a trial of strength between the DRP and the main opposition MDP (Maldivian Democratic Party) led by its chairman Mohamed Nasheed and its president Mohamed Munavaar.
The DRP favors the presidential form, saying it guarantees maximum stability in a small country like Maldives and that the form makes it possible for the people to elect directly their leader in the elections.
The party also said it could provide improved living standards and service to the people in this chain of 1,192 islands strung across the equator.
On the other hand, the MDP said a parliamentary system ensures maximum participation of the people in the overall administration of the government and the affairs of the country.
It said the parliamentary system will ensure a fair distribution of wealth of the country.
Home to around 300,000 Sunni Muslims, the Maldives has an appointed body the Majlis which can comment on the legislation.
Diplomats also said Gayoom is likely to win the referendum as most Maldivians appeared unwilling to embrace radical change in the nation which enjoys South Asia's highest per capita income of more than 2,300 dollars.
Political parties were allowed in the Maldives for the first time in June 2005 as part of the reforms sponsored by President Gayoom who was first elected in 1978 and is currently the longest- serving head of state in Asia.
Source: People News of China