The Elections Commission has advised voters to take their own pens to the voting booth in the upcoming presidential elections, in response to concerns raised by government-aligned political parties over possible use of “disappearing-ink pens” while voting.
Government-aligned parties including the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the Jumhoree Party (JP) have expressed concern over the possible use of ‘disappearing-ink pens’ for voting which, the parties claimed, could alter the outcome of the elections.
Allegations concerning the use of disappearing ink have been made in several national elections around the world including the recent Presidential Elections of Zimbabwe. Others included the 2012 Egyptian Presidential Elections and the 2012 Ukrainian Parliamentary Elections.
Speaking to local media on Sunday, Chair of the Elections Commission Fuwad Thowfeek said that in order to avoid any problems during the elections, the commission advised all voters to take a pen that they trust and had confirmed to be working properly.
“A pen from the Elections Commission will be kept at the ballot station. It will be tied to the voting booth. But people could do anything with the pen. They may even change the ink inside the pen to a different color. And we may not be able to check the pen before each voter enters the booth or even if we check, we may not be able to notice such a thing,” Thowfeek explained.
He added that the Elections Commission would only be able to notice such a discrepancy when counting the votes, and observing an extraordinarily number of invalid ballots.
Thowfeek said the commission “will do whatever they can to avoid such a scenario”.
Speaking to Minivan News, Vice Chair of the Elections Commission Ahmed Fayaz said the commission will place pens that are properly checked and verified at each voting booth but conceded that there remained a possibility that tampered pens would be used.
“We will be doing our best to monitor the situation within our capability. As you know, it is impossible for an official to go and check the pen after a voter finishes voting. But we will be checking the pens used for voting every 30 minutes,” he said.
Fayaz also said that should the commission notice major election fraud through the use of such pens it could take legal action, but maintained that such a thing would be highly unlikely to happen.
“We will thoroughly be monitoring it so such a situation remains highly unlikely,” Fayaz assured.
Meanwhile in a press conference held on Saturday, PPM Spokesperson MP Ahmed Mahloof told the local media that a group of people had imported pens that had ink which would disappear within 45 minutes, meaning his/her vote would become invalid.
“People can do such a think [to use disappearing-ink pens] to create conflict or to influence the vote. For example, if a person takes such a pen and replaces it with the pen placed at the voting booth by the elections commission, then all those who go to vote after that person will use that pen and their votes will become invalid,” Mahloof said.
“Since the mark disappears within minutes, the ballot paper will be blank and thus deemed to be invalid,” he added.
Mahloof urged the election officials and police who are at the polling station to monitor the situation closely to avoid any conflicts.
“We also do not know who is behind this. But if some people plan this really well I believe they have the chance to manipulate the outcome of the election as they want,” Mahloof said, showing what he claimed was a disappearing ink pen to the press.
To ensure the validity of its voters, Mahloof said the PPM will report the matter to police while also filing an official complaint at the Elections Commission.
Resort tycoon and Presidential Candidate of JP Gasim Ibrahim followed Mahloof in warning his supporters, requesting them to be cautious about the pen they used for voting. During a JP rally held on Villimale, Gasim urged all his supporters not to accept any pens offered by strangers.
“This is something that happens everywhere in the world. It is being done around the world. We have even heard that a group of people are trying to do the same in the Maldives as well,” Gasim told his supporters.