The recently dismissed Director General of the Elections Commission (EC), Ahmed Tholal, has alleged that his removal is related to his participation in a strike earlier this year which had questioned the impartiality of certain commission members.
Following his dismissal Tholal took to Twitter, suggesting that his dismissal was politically motivated.
“The reason for my dismissal is to retaliate because we protested, and also because votes cannot be rigged at 2013 Elections if we are there,” he tweeted.
“On March 20, the Elections Commission staff protested. I believe this is the reason for my dismissal,” he told Minivan News. “I received a chit saying that I’ve been dismissed yesterday because I have another post.”
“I am President of the Athletics Association – that is not a job, that is a social responsibility,” he added.
Tholal explained that he had been on the executive committee of the Athletics Association since 2004 and had been promoted to chair of the committee in July this year.
The strike in question, which included 45 EC employees, demanded better remuneration for staff as well as the resignation of three of the five members of the commission who were accused of acting with bias and in violation of EC regulations.
“They have not been following rules and regulations,” said Tholal. “I fight for the right thing, always – I always tell them they have to follow the regulations.”
He noted that the three commissioners in question – Mohamed Farooq, Ali Mohamed Manik and Ogaru Ibrahim Waheed – were still on the commission.
Tholal also pointed out that other staff members who had taken part in the protest had faced repercussions. He noted that a fellow Director General had been demoted and the Human Resources Director dismissed.
“I will fight for my rights,” said Tholal.
The right to strike is protected by Article 31 of the Maldivian constitution.
Secretary General of Elections Commission, Asim Abdul Sattar, denied that Tholal’s dismissal was politically motivated, arguing that Tholal had acted against the rules of the commission.
“It is against the rules of the commission to have any other job, whether paid or not, it is a conflict of interest,” said Sattar.
Sattar also said that the March strike had mainly been about money and that the issue had now been settled.
He explained that the decision had taken one and a half months to be made, although Tholal has claimed his dismissal came without warning.
Independent institutions such as the EC have come under increasing scrutiny once more following the release of the Commission of National Inquiry’s final report (CNI).
Transparency Maldives’ Aiman Rasheed suggested that weak and unassertive institutions must take some of the blame for the events of February 7 and the surrounding political crises.
“The independent institutions need to step up their game by standing for and protecting the values for which they were constituted,” said Aiman.
Although the EC was not specifically mentioned in the final CNI report, it has been mentioned as an institution in need of strengthening by prominent members of the government.
State Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon told the BBC in April that the EC was too weak to withstand the rigours of an early election campaign.
This charge was dismissed at the time by EC President Fuad Thawfeeq and, when asked today about the need to strengthen the commission, Sattar was equally confident.
“We have a good system but we feel there is always need for improvement and capacity building,” he said.
“For any constitutional elections, we will be given two months – we will be able to do it,” said Sattar.
When asked the same question, Tholal suggested that the key to strengthening the EC was to change some of the body’s members.