The Supreme Court in the Maldives has suspended a presidential runoff vote, a day after former president Mohamed Nasheed won the first round of voting but failed to win a clear majority.

It was the third time in two months that authorities stepped in to prevent polls taking place, leaving the Indian Ocean island nation in political limbo.

The runoff had been scheduled to take place on Sunday but the court delayed it until November 16, in line with demands from Nasheed's two biggest rivals.

"All relevant state authorities are informed that today's election cannot take place," the Supreme Court said in a pre-dawn decision that came just hours before the re-run was due to begin.

Incumbent Mohammed Waheed Hassan had been due to step down on Monday, but the Supreme Court on Saturday ruled that he could remain as a caretaker.

A September 7 vote was annulled based on a secret police report which found vote rigging while an October poll was halted by police after a Supreme Court ruling.

International concern

Nasheed, who was ousted from power last year in circumstances that his supporters say amounted to a coup, won 46.9 percent of Saturday's vote, the official results showed.

Nasheed's main opponent is Abdulla Yameen, a half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the islands for 30 years and was considered a dictator by opponents and rights groups.

Yameen won 29.7 percent of the vote, while resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim, a finance minister under Gayoom, secured 23.3 percent.

The United States and the Commonwealth had both warned against delaying the runoff vote.

"It is now imperative that the second round take place immediately and in line with Elections Commission directions in order to ensure the Maldivian people are led by an elected president of their choice," US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

The 53-member Commonwealth bloc's special envoy to the Maldives, Don McKinnon, said: "It is important now that the electoral process move forward swiftly to its conclusion, with the holding of the second round.

"It is unreasonable and unacceptable for parties to continue to demand changes to an agreed election date," he added.

Source: Agencies