The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has called for increased international assistance to help ensure a free and fair presidential election in September, alleging that the country’s political system is presently under considerable “stress”.
As the country’s sole political opposition, the MDP has criticised what it calls a “lack of decisive action” from the international community both in implementing findings from the Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) report, as well as providing election support.
The government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), which is also fielding a candidate in September’s election, meanwhile said it believed “a lot more has to be done” by the Elections Commission (EC) to ensure voting is free and fair.
The claims were made following Commonwealth Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon’s visit to the Maldives this week, as preparations get underway for the presidential vote scheduled for September 7, 2013.
In a statement released yesterday (June 5), McKinnon called for free, fair, peaceful and inclusive elections, while also highlighting the need for the public to ensure their details were correctly included on the recently gazetted electoral register.
Upon being published in the Government Gazzette last Thursday (May 30), the public has been given a 10 day window to check and clarify that people included on the list were correctly registered – or risk invalidating their right to vote.
With the conclusion of a four-day visit to the Maldives yesterday, McKinnon called on all Maldives nationals with the right to vote to take the time to verify their details were correct.
“Voter registers are at their best when the regulatory authority and the political parties work together to ensure their accuracy,” he said.
“It is also my hope that the nominated candidates of political parties will be able to contest the election, on a level playing field, so that the election outcome fully reflects the will of the voters. This will be important for the election’s credibility. I would also expect all candidates to accept the outcome of a credible election.”
Mckinnon’s statement also spoke on the importance of moving forward with recommendations raised in the CoNI report on holding “perpetrators of police brutality” during last year’s controversial transfer of power to account.
As part of his visit, McKinnon met with President Dr Mohamed Waheed to pledge the Commonwealth’s support for free and fair elections, while the government said it remained committed to fair polling and the need for unspecified political reform.
President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad was not responding to calls at time of press.
Calls for action
Speaking to Minivan News following the publication of McKinnon’s statement, MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed that the party had continued to hope for stronger action from the Commonwealth during the last year to ensure implementation of the CoNI report’s findings.
The CoNI report rejected the MDP’s allegations that the government of former President Mohamed Nasheed was toppled by a “coup d’etat” on February 7, 2012, following a mutiny by sections of the country’s police and military.
The MDP eventually accepted the report last year “with reservations” concerning the alleged omission of key evidence submitted at the time. The party claimed the decision was taken to move ahead with recommendations that members of the security forces be found investigated for “illegal acts” during the transfer be punished accordingly.
During a parliamentary inquiry by the Parliament’s Executive Oversight Committee (EOC) earlier this year, the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) claimed that actions by certain officers during the mutiny which led to the change in government were unlawful and amounted to crimes worthy of prosecution by the state.
PIC Vice President Haala Hameed said during the session that the PIC had identified 29 cases of police misconduct, out of which cases concerning six police officers had been sent to the prosecutor general (PG) for prosecution.
The PIC at the time claimed it had urged then-Home Minister Mohamed Jameel to suspend the officers immediately, however the request was not adhered to, and instead at least one of the accused was promoted.
The commission this week announced it had concluded its investigation into police conduct during the controversial transfer of power in February 2012.
Ghafoor alleged that there had since been very limited interest from the Commonwealth in following up on the CoNI recommendations, accusing senior police and military officials of preparing for September’s election in a similar manner to political parties competing in the vote.
He raised particular concern that Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz and Minister of Defence Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim, who assumed their roles directly following the controversial transfer of power, remained in their positions ahead of the election.
Although welcoming McKinnon’s comments stressing the importance of the public verifying their details were included correctly on the voter registry, Ghafoor claimed that the Commonwealth had identified only one of a number of potential electoral concerns ahead of September’s vote.
He therefore called for greater intentional assistance to ensure free and fair elections ahead of September’s polling.
“The entire political system in being put under stress now and we wait to see what assistance the Commonwealth will provide,” Ghafoor said. “Our Elections Commission is good, but they continue to be put under pressure.”
“There is a lack of decisive action, but the words are certainly there from the international community,” Hamid added.
Alongside the MDP, the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives and the Jumhoree Party are also expected to field candidates directly against President Waheed and a coalition of several parties backing him as their candidate during September’s election.
Speaking to Minivan News, PPM MP Ahmed Nihan said that while the party continued to work within the present coalition government under President Waheed, it held concerns about his alleged use of state funds for campaigning.
He said that despite claims made in local media by members of the president’s coalition that recent island visits had been for the benefit of the nation, the PPM viewed the trips as state-funded election campaigning by Dr Waheed’s party.
From the perspective of the EC, Nihan said that the party was also continuing to come across issues within the recently published election registry relating to incorrect information and the inclusion of voters now believed to be deceased.
He said that with an estimated third of the population also having moved from their home islands to the capital in recent years, correct registration would be another vital issue in the lead up to September.
Nihan claimed the EC therefore “has a lot of work to do” in the lead up to September to ensure its database of registered voters was both up-to-date and correct, adding that with the money spent by the state over the last three years, uncertainty remained over how smoothly voting would go.
“The government also has to try and provide the funds for the EC and also participate with international stakeholders to get the assistance to ensure elections are free and fair,” he said.
Minivan News was also awaiting a response to the MDP’s allegations at time of press from Moosa Rameez, a spokesperson for the JP, which is headed by local business magnate and MP Gasim Ibrahim.
The President’s Office has previously rejected accusations that the government was working to exert undue influence on voters through state resources, accusing both the MDP and PPM of making allegations without any evidence.