President of the Elections Commission (EC) Fuad Thawfeeq told Minivan News the commission is ready to hold any election mandated by law.
“We are confident we can organise any election mandated by law – whether it is a presidential election, referendum, or by-election. We will serve our duty,” Fuad said.
However, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon told the BBC on Saturday that the state’s independent institutions including the Elections Commission, Human Rights Commission (HRCM) and the judiciary were not strong enough for early elections to be held.
The ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has called for early elections after the party’s Mohamed Nasheed resigned on February 7 in an alleged “coup d’état.” The Commonwealth and EU have supported the call for early elections.
Unless the institutions are strengthened, elections cannot be held in the country in “the foreseeable future,” Dunya told the BBC.
The US government has pledged US$500,000 (Rf7.7 million) for an elections programme to assist Maldivian institutions in ensuring a free and fair presidential election. The assistance will be made available from July 2012.
“We will not step back in our duty”
Speaking to Minivan News, Fuad said President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s government had not consulted the EC on its capacity to hold early elections. However, the commission has met with foreign teams and assured them of its capacity, Fuad said.
“We told them we have already held three successful elections in the past: the country’s first multi-party election in 2008, parliamentary elections in 2009 and local council elections in 2011,” Fuad said.
“There were more than 1180 seats for the island councils, atoll councils and city councils. That was a very large and complicated election. It was very successful. So I don’t see how anyone can raise questions regarding the Election Commission’s capacity,” he added.
Fuad noted the police played an instrumental role in upholding law and order during elections: “We will need the Maldives Police Services’ help in maintaining law and order and upholding the peace. If other relevant institutions are ready, there will be no problems in holding elections. We will not step back in doing our duty. If the law mandates it, we will hold a very successful election.”
President Nasheed resigned on February 7 after elements of the police and military mutinied. The MDP has acknowledged high levels of “animosity” between its supporters and the police, and called on the police to show restrain during arrest and detention procedures.
Fuad also said upcoming parliamentary by-elections for the Kaashidhoo and Thimarafushi constituencies “may be a platform to see if conditions are right for early elections.” The elections are scheduled for April 14.
HRCM: minor role
Meanwhile, HRCM president Mariyam Azra said the commission only played a minor role in organising and conducting elections.
“We only conduct awareness programs on the citizen’s right to vote without any discrimination during elections. We have the capacity to conduct awareness programs,” Azra told Minivan News.
The HRCM also trained elections observers, but Azra noted there were no funds budgeted for training observers in the state budget for 2012.
Transparency Maldives has previously conducted election monitoring.
“Society must be disciplined”
President Dr Waheed’s Spokesperson Masood Imad told Minivan News that law and order needs to be maintained before free and fair early elections can be held. Further, the MDP was violating law and order with its serial demonstrations, he said.
“Last night they demonstrated at the President’s house and said, “Kill the president, Kill the president”. We need guarantees from the MDP. We need to see society disciplined before free and fair elections,” Imad added.
The MDP has said it will step up its direct action program to press for early elections. The party’s supporters protested in front of Dr Waheed and Defense Minister Ahmed Nazim’s house on Saturday.
Dr Waheed’s administration also maintains that constitutional amendments would have to be made, and the Committee of National Inquiry (CNI) authorised to assess the legality of the controversial transfer of power would have to complete its inquiry before early elections could be held.