The Elections Commission (EC) has raised concerns in Parliament’s National Security Committee that there may not be a suitable environment for the presidential election’s second round should Villa TV (VTV), owned by Gasim Ibrahim and his Jumhooree Party (JP), continue to deliberately spread false information and incite people to rise up against the commission.
The National Security Committee unanimously approved the EC’s request to share their concerns about local media spreading JP’s “baseless and unfounded” claims last Friday (September 13).
The parliamentary committee then summoned the Elections Commission (EC), the Maldives Police Service (MPS), the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) to appear for questioning Saturday (September 14) in regard to its investigation into the EC case filed against the JP.
“For the past week, the media has been trying to spread a lot of untrue stories. There have been so many figures quoted with no truth in them,” EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek told Minivan News yesterday (September 15).
“The problem isn’t local media in general, but VTV has been doing this deliberately,” said Thowfeek.
VTV had been continuously broadcasting the live program ‘Olhuvaalee Vote Ge Namugai’ (‘fraud in the name of the vote’) as well as reports against the EC and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), since the preliminary results from presidential election’s first round indicated Gasim placed third with 24.07 percent, a total of 50,422 votes.
“We went to Parliament’s National Security Committee and raised these concerns because VTV and JP [members] at their ‘jagaha’ (campaign meeting hub) are inciting people to uprise,” said Thowfeek.
“We are concerned that if they keep continuing that we may not find the opportunity for a peaceful, harmonious environment suitable for voting on the 28th,” he continued.
During the National Security Committee meeting these issues were brought to the attention of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), Maldives Police Service (MPS), and Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC).
“These three institutions were present during the second round of the meeting Saturday – MBC because of VTV’s role in broadcasting these things all day and night,” noted Thowfeek.
“The MNDF and MPS [were notified] because the JP and VTV have continued to call on people to obstruct and oppose the second round of elections,” he explained.
“However, I noticed a change in VTV’s content after the National Security Committee meeting, because I didn’t see the ‘Olhuvaalee Vote Ge Namugai’ program broadcast Saturday night,” he added.
Minivan News observed this morning (September 16) that the ‘breaking news’ on VTV involved broadcasting as fact allegations that the EC was destroying election-related documents.
Police acted on the JP’s claim and barricaded the entrance to the EC secretariat early this morning, however by afternoon police had released a statement confirming that no documents potentially affecting the election results had been found among those disposed of by the commission.
“It’s really sad that one of the [presidential election] contestants – after he failed to get the votes required to compete in the second round – has behaved in such a very immature manner,” said Thowfeek.
“Gasim and [his running mate, Dr Hassan] Saeed both failed in the first round of the 2008 presidential election and without any fuss or problems they accepted their defeat,” he noted. “So I thought they’d be more mature this time and not raise problems, but this time they have failed to digest their loss.”
“It’s not a good example to set for the public and it’s not a good thing for the future,” he added.
Committee statements taken out of context: EC
Thowfeek also noted that statements he and EC Member Ali Mohamed Manik gave about the voter registry during the National Security Committee meeting had been taken out of context by local media.
“Saying these  people [who voted in the first round] were not registered voters is not true information,” said Thowfeek.
“These people were on the voter registry list. They were on the final gazetted list that was published publicly, they are not new names,” he continued. “The were also found on the voter registry that was sent to the ballot boxes.”
Thowfeek explained that an interim voter registry document was created after the voter list was published on the government gazette – and accessible for public review so the EC could be notified of needed corrections.
While the 11 voters in question were not included on interim document, their names were found on final voter registry list sent to polling stations, he emphasised.
“Due to a clerical error the EC was not able to find their names in the correct places [on the interim document],” said Thowfeek. “It was the fault of the EC administration. However, this was a case by case issue.”
“If anyone’s name is missed to the a fault of the EC then the commission is responsible for correcting the problem and giving the person a chance to vote,” he added.
Thowfeek emphasised that international observers from 17 commonwealth countries – including Australia, Malaysia, India and UK – as well as the US, EU, Japan and Thailand had all praised the smooth, calm, peaceful, transparent and open election process.
“During a gathering we had with the international observers the evening of September 8, they said this election is just like what anybody can see in a developed country because it was so open, transparent and organised,” he added.
Local media problems
Meanwhile, MBC has launched an investigation into VTV broadcasting unsubstantiated content to incite hatred against the EC in violation of the broadcasting code of practice. The commission stated that it was investigating the matter after a case was filed by a private individual.
“The investigation is ongoing, so I cannot comment [on the VTV case],” MBC President Mohamed Shahyb told Minivan News today.
“We have to watch real time video [from VTV] which takes time,” he explained. “If it is determined that VTV breached the [broadcasting] code of practice then we will give them an opportunity to respond.”
“The commission has to follow procedures to give them time to reply, only then we can adjudicate and reach a final conclusion,” he added.
Shahyb expects the investigation will “probably” be completed by late this week or early next week.
Although the VTV case also falls within the Maldives Media Council (MMC)’s mandate, no official complaints have yet been filed, the MMC told Minivan News today.
However, the MMC did receive an SMS expressing concern with VTV’s broadcasts, which was discussed by the council’s five member committee dedicated to election issues.
With the ongoing Supreme Court and High Court cases as well as MBC’s investigation, the MMC has not decided to take any official action as of yet, however the issue is “on the table”, it noted.
The MMC also noted it had not received any official complaints regarding the conflicting and inaccurate media reporting of first round voting figures during the counting process.
Confusion over the voting figures was created by local media reports not matching those of the EC during counting, with sluggish EC figures supplemented by differing poll results, depending on the outlet chosen. One local newspaper even had voted turnout at 102 percent for much of the counting process.
Prior to the release of the provisional results at 5:00am on Saturday 8, a small group of JP supporters demonstrated outside the Dharubaruge convention centre alleging a 10,000 vote discrepancy.