Ongoing death threats received by the Elections Commission (EC)’s permanent staff and polling station officials have prompted the commission to file a report with the Maldives Police Service (MPS) today.
A lack of state cooperation prevented the commission from holding a “free and fair [presidential election] vote without intimidation, aggression, undue influence or corruption” on September 28 as constitutionally-mandated, the (EC) announced on Friday night, shortly before it was surrounded by a police barricade.
Lack of police support, “some political parties” threatening to set ballot boxes on fire, and death threats made against Elections Commission members, staff, and officials involved in the voting process were highlighted as reasons for postponing the second round run-off, which would otherwise have taken place yesterday.
Special Operations police surrounded the EC secretariat on Friday, with orders from Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz to take over the building and ballot papers should it proceed with holding the election.
In addition to the MPS stating it would not cooperate with the EC and ceasing to providing security requested by the commission for the second round, police prevented EC staff and visitors from entering the secretariat on Friday. However, staff were later allowed to return after a series of phone calls between Riyaz and EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek.
As of Thursday, the EC insisted that it was constitutionally mandated to hold the runoff within 21 days of the first round, in spite of an order from the Supreme Court to suspend the election indefinitely. This prompted Assistant Commissioner of Police Hassan Habeeb to call the Elections Commission Chair on Thursday night (September 26) and warn that police would not allow the election to take place.
Death threats continue
“It’s not just myself and my family, but Elections Commission staff, including most directors and even some heads of ballot boxes and other polling station staff who have received threatening messages that they and their families will be killed,” Elections Commission Chair Fuwad Thowfeek told Minivan News today.
“They are very much scared about the situation. Some are even afraid to come out of their homes. It’s very sad,” Thowfeek lamented.
“I hope we will be safe, we have been trying to follow the constitution,” he said.
Thowfeek said the EC had sent a report to the MPS detailing the threats, phone numbers the messages were sent from, and other relevant information.
He noted that the EC was still considering whether to send an official letter to the Telecommunications Authority regarding the death threats “because we are waiting for action to be taken through the MPS, since they have the authority to investigate.”
The following SMS was sent to EC and polling station officials yesterday:
“What you did to rig the vote near ballot boxes will be exposed. YOU resign. Or else even your family will be killed. Allah Akbar we are with the religion.”
On Thursday senior Election’s Commission staff received the following message around 6:00pm:
“We will kill anyone who allies with Fuwad Thowfeek against the Supreme Court order and the Maldivian constitution and continues with voting activities. Allah Akbar.”
Additionally, during an interview Minivan News conducted with Thowfeek last week, he noted that “some of us are getting threats from unknown people. I have received SMS messages saying ‘be careful when you come out on the street, you’ll be stabbed in the stomach’.”
Only the EC’s human resource section and other section heads of the commission have a list of all election officials and temporary staff, explained Thowfeek.
The commission had provided the four political party presidential candidate representatives with a list of all elections officials, including polling station staff, but that list did not include their phone or ID card numbers, he noted.
The Police Integrity Commission (PIC) called for the police to provide any assistance the EC requires to go ahead with the second round.
Earlier this month the PIC determined Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz violated the Police Act by posting a letter on Twitter urging police officers not to vote for former President Mohamed Nasheed and recommended administrative action be taken against the police chief.
Minivan News enquired with the PIC whether Commissioner Riyaz would be able to impartially issue orders to prevent the EC from conducting election preparations and holding the second round runoff, or whether the MPS – under his leadership – would be able to impartially investigate the death threats EC staff have been receiving.
PIC Director General Fathimath Sareera Ali Shareef told Minivan News today that she needed to consult with their legal department and would reply as soon as possible. She had not responded at time of press.
Elections Commission secure
Police meanwhile remained outside the Elections Commission until yesterday (Saturday) evening, guarding the secretariat and patrolling the road, noted Thowfeek.
“It was our request to have the police in front of the security room, on the ground floor [of the secretariat], and surrounding the building so nobody could enter from behind. They are keeping full security of the building for the protection of the commission and our own safety,” said Thowfeek.
The Elections Commission confirmed there was “no danger” its data could be tampered with because it remained “fully protected” and is being “closely monitored”.
The commission’s server was intentionally shut down on Friday night to prevent anyone from accessing data through a “remote medium”, explained Thowfeek.
Additionally, beginning Friday night, the EC established a rotational schedule to ensure staff are present in the EC’s secretariat 24 hours a day, seven days a week, “so there is no chance an outsider can get in” and tamper with any materials or data, he continued.
“Our own staff are present in the IT, security, and records section rooms – the most important places are constantly monitored,” said Thowfeek.
Thowfeek also explained the “misunderstanding” between the MPS and the EC that led Special Operations police to surround the secretariat and prevent staff or visitors from entering, with orders from Police Commissioner Riyaz to take over the commission and arrest staff who disobeyed the Supreme Court order to halt presidential election preparations.
After a Raajje TV journalist called to enquire about the situation, Thowfeek explained to the reporter that “even staff and visitors were not allowed” to enter the EC.
This led Police Commissioner Riyaz to contact Thowfeek and explain that police were sent to protect the commission against any “angry people” trying to enter the EC and harm its staff, according to the EC Chair.
Riyaz also instructed Thowfeek “not to listen to stories from different people about the situation”.
Thowfeek then sent the EC’s Secretary General and Director General downstairs to confirm what was occurring. The commission’s IT and coordination section directors had been prevented from entering the building and police informed the Secretary General that visitors would not be allowed to enter on Saturday either.
The EC Chair again contacted Riyaz and explained that the action being taken by the special operations police differed from what the Police Commissioner had said the MPS officers would do.
Fifteen minutes later, Elections Commission staff with proper identification were allowed into the building and the commission was informed that invited visitors would be permitted to enter as well.
Minivan News had journalists present inside and outside the EC secretariat building throughout the events and did not observe protesters present at the time Special Operations police surrounded the building.
International observer visits
EC officials had previously planned to meet the British High Commissioner in the commission’s secretariat on Saturday, however after the EC’s Secretary General was informed by police Friday night they would not be able to hold the meeting in the commission, it was relocated to the High Commissioner’s hotel, explained Thowfeek.
“The British High Commissioner was here during the first round and commended our work,” said Thowfeek. “He came to see the second round and was disappointed when he found out it had been stopped.”
“He hoped for a quick solution and wished us [the EC] well,” he added.
A team of Nigerian election observers also arrived on Friday and were “very much disappointed” polling did not take place, explained Thowfeek. However, because they “made such a long trip” the EC has still been working with the West African observers and providing information about the electoral process.
The Danish Ambassador and the Commonwealth [observation group] Chair met with EC officials Friday, noted Thowfeek.
“We have had no news from any other [international election] observers,” he added.
Election not possible before November 11, says EC
Holding the second round – or another first round – of the presidential election will now “not be possible before November 11 within existing elections laws”, Thowfeek told Minivan News.
While the EC usually requires 60 days of preparation time for the whole process, “even if we don’t waste a single minute” 45 days will still be required before another presidential election can take place, he continued.
“We have to update the voter list, gazette it, receive complaints and input from the public regarding the list, see who will be present where on that date and allow them to re-register accordingly, add just-turned 18 year-olds and remove anyone who has died during the [voter registry updating] process, etc,” he noted.
Thowfeek explained that general and presidential elections law mandates specific periods of time are given for each step of the election preparation process, for example the voter registry must be published in the government gazette 45 days before polling, 10 days are given to submit complaints, and five days are provided to file cases of unaddressed complaints with the High Court.
“If special laws are made, then maybe it will be possible,” said Thowfeek.
“[Timetables within] the existing laws have to be rescheduled and another set of laws passed [before the November 11 constitutional election deadline],” he elaborated. “The other difficulty is that the Majlis is currently in recess. They may reconvene next week, but any law [passed] has to be ratified by the president.”
“We have just 42 days left before [the end of the presidential term on] November 11, so time is limited,” he added.
The date for the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Jumhooree Party’s case against the Elections Commission remained unscheduled at time of press.
HRCM and civil society support for elections
The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has called on the Supreme Court and state institutions to ensure that Maldivians not be stripped of the right to vote, guaranteed by constitutional article 26 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and to ensure that there would be an elections within the duration stated in the constitution.
HRCM also called on everyone not to pave way for unrest and to hasten all work that had to be done to uphold the constitution.
The commission also called on the EC to solve all the issues with the voters’ registration.
HRCM further called on the authorities to take legal action against those to pose death threats and threats of violence and also called on everyone to give high priority to national interest.
Yesterday Transparency Maldives appealed to all actors “especially the Supreme Court, to uphold the spirit of the Constitution and electoral deadlines and respect people’s electoral choice.”
The NGO expressed its “concern over the delay of the second round of elections and rising tensions as Transparency Maldives did not receive any reports that suggest systematic fraud in its nationwide observation and no credible evidence that supports such allegations has been made public.”
Transparency Maldives, the HRCM and the Maldivian Democracy Network observed the first round and praised the EC’s free and fair electoral process.
Global election support
Global condemnation followed the Supreme Court’s issuing of the injunction, with the UK, EU, and the Commonwealth specifically calling for the run-off to go ahead as scheduled.
International election observers unanimously commended the first round of polling, calling for losing parties to accept defeat and allow the second round to proceed as scheduled.
The Commonwealth’s human rights and democracy arm has since “expressed concern at developments” in the Maldives following the first round of elections.
Business as usual
The Election’s Commission is meanwhile “going ahead” with preparations for the upcoming local council and parliamentary elections.
“We are doing the work for local council elections to take place in December , said Thowfeek.
“[Additionally] last night we issued one draft document for constituencies. According to the law, eight months before the existing term of Parliament expires, we have to check the population figures from various localities and [based on the data] create a report on how constituencies should be formed for the next election,” explained Thowfeek.
Currently there are 77 seats in the People’s Majlis, however 85 seats will be needed, he added.
The Parliamentary election is scheduled to take place on March 2014.