The Supreme Court panel of seven judges has heard three witness statements submitted by the Jumhooree Coalition during Sunday’s hearing, in the party’s ongoing bid to annul the first round of polling in which it narrowly missed a place in the run-off.
The court stated that the identities of all three witnesses were to be protected and therefore only their voices – altered to make identification difficult – were heard in the court room.
The first witness – a male voice – stated that upon going to the polling station on September 7, election officials informed him that he had already cast his vote, and that his name had been marked as such on the voters registry.
He then claimed that after discussion with the election officials at the said booth, he had been allowed to cast his vote, despite the list showing he had previously voted.
The second witness – female – said that she had been unable to cast her vote as the elections officials at the polling station she had attended had said her name was not on the voters list.
When the JP’s lawyer and presidential running mate Dr Hassan Saeed asked the witness if she had registered to vote, and why or why not, she responded that she had not and that it was because she had figured “I too will need to go where everyone else at home went”.
Hassan then asked “You are saying it is because you intended to vote from the area of your permanent address?”, prompting a “yes” from the witness.
Hassan then asked if she had taken a valid national identity card which had all the text on it clearly visible, and if the elections officials had checked it.
The witness said that she had taken one, but alleged officials had not looked at it.
Questions were also asked of the second witness by Judge Adam Mohamed.
Adam Mohamed asked if the elections officials had offered her any reassurance that she would later be allowed to vote, to which she replied in the negative.
The judge then asked if the officials had then just asked her to go home, to which the witness replied that she had of her own accord gone home, as her name was not on the voters’ list.
The third and final witness in the hearing was a man who claimed to have worked as a senior election official in charge of a ballot box. The location of the box was not revealed, to protect his identity.
Dr Saeed asked him about the time voting started and if the netbook and Ballot Progress Reporting System (BPRS) queue system provided by the Elections Commission was working.
The witness said that voting started at approximately 7:30am. He said that although the netbook was in perfect working condition, as was the BPRS, the officials at the station had some trouble working it as they did not understand how. He said they then had started the voting process using the hard copy of the voters’ list as instructed during their training.
He stated that they had already released 10 queue numbers for voting before they were able to get the BPRS queue system working.
According to the witness, he had instructed another official to start entering these 10 numbers at about 10:00am when the queues had calmed down, during which process they discovered that five of the 10 people appeared on the system as having already voted.
He however assured that no person whose name was not on the voting list had cast a vote at the station he had been watching over.
The Elections Commission’s lawyer, former Attorney General Husnu Suood, asked the witness if these five persons were people who had come from another island, which the witness confirmed as true.
He then asked if it was possible to say they had cast their votes on another island and then come to the witnesses’ island in an attempt to cast their vote.
The witness stated that this was impossible, as they had been among the first in queue when voting began.
Dr Saeed again questioned the witness, asking if the official knew the island of origin of the five alleged double-voters, and how much time it would have taken them to travel to their permanent residences on a speed boat from the official’s island.
The official said the people came from an island outside his atoll, and that it would take at least an hour and a half to reach there, even by speedboat.
Dr Saeed then asked if there was any other island with ballot boxes and which was the closest.
The witness said the closest one was 10 minutes away by speedboat, and that he believed that “in times as technologically advanced as this, it is possible that these five persons had removed the ink mark indicating having voted and gone to a nearby polling centre and recast a vote.”
Husnu Suood at this point intervened, asking the judges to make the witness’s statements be based on facts, and not inclusive of opinions.
The judge overruled the objection, stating that witness statements were an account of what they believed to have happened.
The last question was posed by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) lawyer Ahmed Zaneen Adam, who asked if the EC had asked officials to make voters remain in the polling area for 30 seconds after the ink mark was drawn on their fingers.
The witness responded that they had been told so, and had worked under these instructions.
Judges then told Zaneen that he could not question the witness beyond the scope of his statement.
Although the judges panel stated that all parties would be given an opportunity to speak after the witness statements, the court session ended directly after the statements were delivered.
Another hearing in the case began today (Monday September 23) at 11:00am and was ongoing at time of press.