No re-votes as High Court concludes Majlis election-related cases

The High Court has delivered verdicts today in 13 election-related cases filed by losing candidates in the March 22 parliamentary polls seeking annulment of the results.

In 12 cases, the High Court ruled that there were no grounds to annul the results and order a re-vote as the evidence submitted was not sufficient to prove electoral fraud.

In the case concerning the Lhaviyani Kurendhoo constituency, the court ruled that there were no grounds to grant the request for a recount of ballot boxes.

Losing candidates from both opposition and government-aligned parties had challenged the outcome of the Majlis elections.

The 13 constituencies were Haa Dhaal Nolhivaram, Shaviyani Funadhoo, Lhaviyani Kurendhoo, Lhaviyani Naifaru, Kaafu Kaashidhoo, Vaavu Felidhoo, Thaa Thimarafushi, Laamu Isdhoo, Gaaf Alif Villigili, Gaaf Alif Gemanafushi and the mid-Hithadhoo, Hithadhoo North and Feydhoo constituencies in Addu City.

While opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidates for Kaashidhoo, Nolhivaram, Feydhoo and Funadhoo filed cases at the High Court on their own accord, cases concerning the Villigili, Isdhoo, and Gemanafushi constituencies were filed by the party.

The rest of the cases were lodged by candidates of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and its coalition partner Jumhooree Party (JP).

Coalition concerns

Following his loss to an independent candidate, the incumbent JP MP for Lhaviyani Naifaru, Ahmed Mohamed, accused the PPM of attempting to “destroy” its coalition partner.

The veteran MP explained that PPM members contested as independents in constituencies assigned for the JP in the seat allocation deal reached among the coalition parties.

While the independent candidate – Ahmed Shiyam – used the PPM party office, colour, and logo in his campaign for the Naifaru seat, Ahmed Mohamed alleged that the government gave jobs and promotions in the nearby Felivaru fish cannery at his opponent’s request.

“And if that wasn’t enough, [they] anti-campaigned against me while voting was ongoing,” he claimed.

Shiyam – along with three of the five successful independent candidates – signed for the PPM within days of the polls’ conclusion.

JP MP for the Hithadhoo South constituency, MP Hassan Latheef, also accused the PPM of campaigning against him after two senior members of the ruling party contested as independents.

Latheef reportedly alleged that the PPM members used money to bribe voters and influence within the government to provide jobs.

Latheef also noted that he was not invited to a campaign rally in Hithadhoo that was attended by President Yameen. The two independent candidates were however present at the rally, he said.

Marked ballots

Meanwhile, briefing members of the MDP’s national council last week, former Human Resources Minister Hassan Latheef – a member of the party’s legal committee – explained that that the party filed cases concerning the Villigili, Isdhoo, and Gemanafushi constituencies.

As both the constitution and electoral laws stipulate that voting must be conducted through secret ballot, Latheef said the Elections Commission was responsible for ensuring secrecy of the ballot.

Based on precedents established by the High Court and Supreme Court, Latheef explained that the MDP had asked the High Court to declare that ballot papers tagged with a symbol or mark would be invalid.

In the Gaaf Alif Villigili constituency election, Latheef said that about 300 ballot papers were tagged, all of which were counted as valid votes for the PPM candidate.

Similarly, in the Laamu Isdhoo constituency, Latheef said the number of tagged ballot papers was more than 150 while there were more than 100 tagged ballot papers in the Gemanafushi constituency.

Latheef noted that in all three constituencies, the margin between MDP and PPM candidates was smaller than the number of tagged ballot papers identified by observers.

Under a precedent established by a Supreme Court ruling, Latheef said that if the number of ballots whose secrecy was compromised exceeds the margin of victory, the poll would not be valid.

As compromising the secrecy of the ballot in any election was illegal, Latheef contended that tagged ballot papers should be considered invalid votes.

Earlier this month, the MDP issued a press release accusing government-aligned parties of unduly influencing the March 22 polls through coercion and intimidation in addition to vote buying.

Some voters were asked to tag their ballot papers with a special mark or symbol for PPM observers and candidate representatives to identify their votes, the party alleged.

Voters were threatened with dismissal from their government jobs if they did not follow the instructions and proved they voted for the coalition candidate, the press release stated.

In the wake of the Majlis elections, NGO Transparency Maldives stated that while the polls were well-administered and transparent, “wider issues of money politics threatens to hijack the democratic process”.