Elections Commission President Fuwad Thowfeek has criticised the Supreme Court, the government, the police, Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and the Jumhooree Party (JP) over the annulment of the first round of presidential elections held on September 7, the Supreme Court’s 16 guidelines for a revote and halt of the elections hours before the polls were due to open on Saturday morning.
Speaking on the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation’s (MBC) Raajje Miadhu (Maldives Today) program, Thowfeek said the Supreme Court annulled the first round of elections based on non credible and “bizarre” evidence. Thowfeek described the Supreme Court’s 16 guidelines as “restrictions” and called for a return to the time periods and tasks outlined in the Constitution and elections laws when a revote is held again.
President Mohamed Waheed Hassan has asked for an election on October 26, but Thowfeek said such a date was “impossible.” The Elections Commission is now considering either November 2 or 9 as dates for a new election.
“We agree we can hold elections on November 9. We believe it is important to see if we can hold an election on November 2. Because then, we can hold a second round by November 9,” Thowfeek said.
“We will do all we can to hold a presidential election. A presidential election needs to be held for the nation’s future to become clear. We need and appeal for the support of all political parties, citizens and government institutions to hold a new election,” Thowfeek added.
Below are excerpts from the interview:
Possibility of an election on October 26
“Not possible. Not possible. Everything one wants to do is not possible to do. If they had been wiser, we wouldn’t be in this situation today. But this situation is here now. And no doubt, there are parties who have to shoulder responsibility.”
Supreme Court’s annulment of the first round held on September 7:
“The first round was free, fair and transparent. However, in quite bizarre events, the case was submitted to the Supreme Court and the [vote] was annulled. The government and the PPM [Progressive Party of the Maldives] advocated in support of the Jumhoree Party who filed the case.
“The [Supreme Court] annulled the vote on bizarre evidence. For example, a person called Mohamed Waheed Hassan, may have his name on ID card as Mohamed Waheed. When we gave him the right to vote, they counted it as a fraudulent vote. But the ID card number, address, date of birth and photo is the same. About 1900 of these cases were identified. A person called Mariyam Waheeda, may have her name spelled as Maryam on one list and Mariyam on the other. We know it is Mariyam Waheeda. We know it is the same person, the date of birth is exact, the ID card number is the same, photo shows it is the right person. When we give these people the right to vote, [the Supreme Court] has said that is giving the right to vote to a person who doesn’t have the right to vote.
“Similarly, the problem of address, it is quite weird. I could have made my ID card when I was on the Haajaraage registry, but when I change my address to [Thalhamathuge], the ID I have is the previous ID [with a different address]. Even though I am now registered at Thalhamathuge, I still have the same ID card number, same date of birth, same photo. It is very clear it is the same person. We gave the right to vote to these people. And when we did that, [the election] has been annulled. Even if a person who has mismatches in address, if they go to vote with their passport, they can vote [passports do not have addresses on them]. There are over 2800 cases of address mismatches. They invalidated the election based on such evidence, and ordered a revote.
“Everyone knows, anyone who is responsible knows, what the Constitution says, who has jurisdiction over such cases, which court. However, outside of the law, they have submitted the case to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court accepted the case and annulled the vote. They paved the path to today’s situation. This is very sad. But we need to go forward one way or another.”
Police role in halting elections on October 19
“The government assured us of its full support for a new election. But this assurance is not new. The government has always assured us of its support, and they have provided support [at times]. However, but when we are about to hold the election, we see the election being stopped. This time, it is the police who have stopped the election. It is the people who are supposed to prevent others from obstructing the election, who have obstructed the election today. The police were also ordered to provide protection, security of ballot boxes and papers. The police stopped the election using the excuse that all three candidates did not sign the voter registry. But the Supreme Court verdict does not give the police the authority to oversee that.
“The police refused to provide security. The verdict clearly says the police must accompany the ballot boxes and papers to the polling stations. But last night the police said they will not facilitate the process. If we dispatch the boxes without police cooperation, then the Supreme Court has the space to annul the election [again]. In addition to that, in the morning, when our officials left the office with documents, papers, ballot boxes, they stopped them. [They said elections officials] did not have the permission to leave the Elections Commission. They stopped the election. The police officers told our elections officials they had been ordered to stop anyone from leaving the Elections Commission building with any documents relating to the election. I know if [EC officials] had tried to disobey and leave, [the police] would have obstructed them, physically stopped them. The [EC officials] did not attempt to disobey, but they did ask the police why. And a sergeant there said this is what they had been ordered to do. They did not allow EC officials to leave the building with documents.
“I also believe, holding an election is something we must absolutely do. We must start work again to hold an election. A lot of money has been wasted. Approximately RF 30 million was spent on the annulled first round. For the second round, we spent RF 27 million and that election was forcibly stopped. And now, in this round, approximately over RF 25 million has been spent. I do not know the exact figures. We have to start again. It is a huge expense. We want the certainty, we must get the certainty that this time, when the work is completed, anyone, whether it is the police or anyone else, cannot stop the election. The defense minister has assured us of this. That there will be no obstruction in the upcoming work. But there is a higher authority than [the government], the Supreme Court. If there is a Supreme Court order [to halt elections], it will not be easy to find a solution. And also, most of the time, the Supreme Court issues orders at midnight. And it is not easy for an ordinary person to challenge such an order at that time. Hence, it is not easy to hold an election now. In addition to this, the Supreme Court 16 guidelines delineated in the verdict are restrictions. These are locks, blocks. With those locks, it will be very difficult for us to hold elections. But if we could hold an election according to the Constitution, Elections Laws and Presidential Elections laws, we will be able to hold a free election.”
Government’s role in next election [President Waheed appointed Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim as his representative on holding new elections]
“I do not know what Nazim’s role is. I was informed he is the government’s representative in this. I believe [his role] is to find agreement on the disputes between all the candidates. Some candidates have demands, and if we were to fulfill those demands, it will take more than a month. For example, one of PPM’s demands is to select a random 10 percent of the re-registration forms – note this is not forms with problems, but a random sample, and to verify the fingerprints on these forms. When I asked the Police’s Forensic Department, I was told checking a single fingerprint will take at least 5 minutes. This means in 24 hours of non stop work, only 288 records can be checked, 300 at the most. To check over 7000 forms will take more than 20 days. If we were to do so, there is not enough time before November 11. Even now, we only have 20 days between now and then [November 11].”
On the earliest date for a new election
“The Elections Commission believes it will take us 21 days to hold an election at the earliest. So if we start immediately, November 9 is the earliest date, with a shortened time frame for tasks. The Constitution, Elections Laws give a 60 day period to call an election if the post of President and Vice President are vacant at the same time. In addition to this, even to hold a by election for the local councils, a 45 day period is allocated.
“That period is given to complete all necessary tasks, such as publishing the voter registry, and giving the opportunity to check and revise the registry. Even if we were to say we want to hold a speedy election, not necessarily the best election, then within 21 days, with a lot of hard work, we can do it. However, this time, we did it within 11 days. But in these 11 days, we worked like slaves in Pharaonic times. All day, all night, until we fell over, we worked. When we fell over, we go and sleep for two hours, washed our faces and started work again. That is to achieve the tasks in the Supreme Court’s supreme order. Our staff destroyed themselves working [like that]. But however, ultimately, at the last minute when we were about to dispatch the ballot boxes, the police refused to support us. They made it so that [an election] could not be held. Our staff are disheartened, saddened, concerned, hopeless. It will not be easy to make our staff work like Pharaonic slaves again. Earlier they sacrificed themselves for a national cause. But the police did not accept [our work].”
EC database compromised after SC access to data
“If you were to [meet all the demands of the political parties] it is not possible to hold an election within 21 days. We do have questions over whether our server is being accessed. Our data is being destroyed. With the Supreme Court case, we had to submit a lot of information about our computer systems to the Supreme Court, including many records of logs, technical information, and involve the NCIT [National Center for Information Technology] in it.
Previously, access to the system was very restricted to very few people, not just anybody could access it. But now the system is open. Now we are seeing people accessing and changing our database. No one had the opportunity to access the system in the annulled first round of presidential elections. People are destroying our data. So we cannot give that kind of certainty they [political parties] want, NCIT cannot give that kind of assurance now either. Earlier, they said they could not notice any external access in the annulled first round of election. They have not said anything yet [about the revote]. But I am certain, I know that if they check now, they will find there are ways for people to access the database. Because we see changes that should not take place happening to our data.”
On JP and PPM’s refusal to approve voter registry
“As far as I know, their signature is required to ensure that the voter list present at the polling station has been prepared by the Elections Commission. No matter how much they check, they cannot verify the information of 239,000, people unless they have two to three years. No matter how clever they are they will need at least six months to check and approve the voter registry. We cannot hold an election as they want to. The Maldives will never be able to hold an election according to their demands. So far in the Maldives, elections have not been held the way candidates want. Elections Commission will decide what to do. Elections must proceed on the Elections Commission’s decisions. If medical care were to be given as the patient wants, then what is the use of doctors? I do not believe an election can be held according to their demands.
“We followed the Supreme Court’s guidelines. The only task that was not completed was the signing of the voter registry by the representatives of the PPM and JP candidates. They failed to do what the Supreme Court order ordered them to do. Because of their failure, the police refused to allow the election to proceed. They stopped the election. Because of that, the Maldives is in a dangerous situation. The state is very vulnerable now.
“It is not easy for us to hold an election according to the Supreme Court’s restrictions. Before we hold a new election, we want to check and clarify with the Supreme Court if we have to permanently follow [the guidelines]. The official in charge of the ballot box is not allowed to carry a phone. In no other place in the world, does a Supreme Court make a decision like that.”
Calls for a return to holding elections within constitution and elections laws
“The problem here is that we are acting outside the law. Otherwise, we do not have to ask anything of the candidates. The laws state the time for this task, that task. These time periods have been written in the law and these laws have been ratified. We have to obey them and the candidates have to obey them as well. If we were to discard these laws, then we have to get approval of the candidates or else they will have the opportunity to raise problems and not accept the results. This is what will happen in a next election. But if we were to go back inside the laws, then the time periods have to be obeyed by the Elections Commission, by the state institutions and all candidates.”