Elections Commission deputy backs dropping fingerprinting for party membership applications

A decision by Parliament’s Independent Institutions Committee to cease requiring fingerprints on political party application forms has been welcomed by Vice President of Elections Commission (EC) Ahmed Fayaz, who downplayed concerns over the potential for future membership fraud.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Fayaz stressed that the EC would not be officially commenting on the parliamentary commission’s decision yesterday until speaking with various party leaders. However, he claimed that he personally believed the Majlis recommendation to discontinue the use of fingerprints would make the system of membership applications more efficient and easier for both the EC and political parties.

Announcing the decision yesterday to recommend an end to fingerprinting, the Independent Institutions Committee members questioned the efficiency of such technology, arguing that no mechanism or database presently existed in the Maldives that could store the required amounts of information.

Nonetheless, local NGO the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) told Minivan News that while it was unsure of the efficiency of the EC’s fingerprint system, fraudulent membership registration for Maldivian political parties remained a significant problem that needed to be addressed. MDN claimed that alternative methods of party member verification should now be sought by parliament and the EC.

Fayaz responded that under regulations adopted in 2005, political parties had not been requested to submit membership forms to the EC. Instead, he said they have been required every three months to produce a list of their members including names and their ID number.

“When these lists are sent, these members should not be registered with other political parties,” he said. “[Parties] must check for themselves that these members are genuine.”

Fayaz said he believed that the present system of checking party membership lists every three months left little room for “fraud” within the system. He claimed therefore that a larger issue facing party membership rather than fraud was the state system of giving payments to parties on the basis of which group had the largest number of followers.

Fayaz accepted that the use of a verification system “like fingerprinting” could help stop possible fraud within party memberships, particularly in the case of people charged with recruiting members for the country’s political parties.

“I think some of the people doing recruiting [for parties] may in cases go beyond the rules,” he said, noting that there had been an improvement in following regulations in recent years.

Upon taking his oath of office along with current EC President Fuad Thaufeeq back in 2009, Fayaz claimed they had discovered “a culture” at the commission where regulations were often not being followed as required under laws outlining political party memberships.

“Perhaps under pressure from political parties there was a regulation where membership lists were not being checked every quarter,” he added, claiming that regulations were now being upheld up by the EC.

Speaking to Minivan News yesterday, MDN Executive Director Humaida Abdul Gafoor said the NGO was extremely concerned at ongoing cases of members being signed up to parties fraudulently.

“Often, people are not aware they have been signed up,” she stated. “It is imperative that it is down to an individual to decide which party they want to belong to and no one else.”

Humaida Abdul Gafoor said it was vital that some form of verification mechanism was in place to ensure party memberships were genuine, adding that a bigger issue facing the committee was in finding alternatives to the fingerprint technology, rather than simply halting it.

“We don’t know if the EC’s adoption of fingerprinting was a move in the right direction in first place,” she added.

System criticism

Explaining the decision to discontinue the EC’s request for fingerprints, Deputy Chairman of the Independent Institutions Committee, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Sameer, said that the Maldives did not presently have a mechanism or system to collect and store such information.

“In regards to issues with the fingerprinting system, the EC, Department of National Registration and the Maldives Police Service all agreed they didn’t have enough records or verification systems available,” he told Minivan News.

One ongoing critic of the EC’s fingerprint system is MP Ahmed Mahloof of the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

Back in September, Mahloof alleged via local media that close to 8000 membership forms from his party have been rejected by the Elections Commission (EC) – mainly due to the quality of fingerprints appearing on the forms.

The MP claimed that the fingerprint issue had arisen because the EC did not have sufficiently modern machinery to look at the fingerprints, relying instead on the perception of its staff – drastically limiting memberships numbers for the party.

A spokesperson for the EC told Minivan News at the time that similar complaints had been received from other political parties including the Jumhoree Party (JP), Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP), and the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

PPM MP Mahloof, DRP chief Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and DQP Leader Dr Hassan Saeed were not responding to phone calls by Minivan News at the time of going to press.