Mohamed Nasheed, the former President of the Maldives who says he was ousted in a coup, is appealing for new elections to be held this year, warning that a delay would have dire consequences.
The former political prisoner became the first democratically elected president of the Indian Ocean archipelago in 2008 elections but says he was forced to resign in a mutiny after anti-government protests in February.
On a visit to Washington, the 45-year-old called for elections within the year to prevent a strengthening of anti-democratic forces in the nation of 330,000 people.
"If they don't take place in 2012, I have my doubts," Nasheed told AFP in an interview.
"If we give them enough time to entrench themselves, they could do many things. They could skew the field in such a manner where an election cannot happen," he said.
However, the new administration of President Mohamed Waheed has ruled out snap polls and said that the earliest elections could be held under the Maldivian constitution was July 2013.
Nasheed was in Washington speaking to officials, scholars and activists. He met Monday with Robert Blake and Michael Posner, the top State Department officials handling South Asia and human rights respectively, a spokeswoman said.
Nasheed plans to run as the nominee of his Maldivian Democratic Party in the next election. He says that he quit under duress in February after around 300 soldiers seized control in the island capital Male.
Nasheed has charged that Islamic radicals, local businessmen and holdouts from veteran strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's regime were involved in the plot.
"The issue is that the people of the Maldives must be governed by an elected leader that they choose, not through brute force, not through a regime that has come into governance through brute force," Nasheed said.
"We feel that during the last three and a half years in government we've been able to deliver to the people, and I'm sure that they want us back again," he said.
Nasheed warned that his opponents would be able to rescind freedom of assembly and expression in Maldives "and in fact the whole political infrastructure that we were able to build in the last five years."
As Nasheed left office, protesters entered the Maldives' National Museum and smashed up Buddhist statues that they considered idolatrous. The vandalism destroyed much of the Buddhist heritage of Maldives, where Islam is the state religion.
Waheed has said that Nasheed resigned voluntarily and accused him of creating chaos. Waheed said that unrest has cost the atoll nation an estimated 180 million rufiyaa ($11.8 million).
As president, Nasheed became known as a champion of action to fight climate change amid fears that his low-lying nation will disappear as rising temperatures melt the planet's ice.
Nasheed's campaign is at the center of a new documentary, "The Island President," which was completed shortly before his removal from office.
Nasheed's successor Waheed flew to Brazil for this month's Rio+20 summit on the environment and announced that the archipelago would become the world's biggest marine reserve to protect its fish and biodiversity.
"Any preservation is good either done by a coup government or not," Nasheed said.
"Anything good is good, but the Maldives has always been a marine reserve. There's nothing to do about it."