Additional reporting by Mohamed Naahii
“We are very certain the election will be held as scheduled, but not everything is within our control,” Elections Commissioner (EC) Fuwad Thowfeek told a press conference tonight (October 16).
“We are giving our maximum effort to reach the deadline. No rest, no sleep, two hours [maximum]. We were working 24 hours straight, then 36, now 48. Our officials are doing everything humanly possible. International observers are even surprised [at the intensive effort put forth],” said Thowfeek.
Following the Supreme Court’s annulment of the first round of presidential elections, the EC had been given less than 12 days to prepare for the repeat poll – scheduled to take place this Saturday (October 19).
The commission has said it normally requires 45-60 days of preparation to hold a presidential election in accordance with the Maldives’ constitution and general elections law.
The Supreme Court’s verdict delineated 16 guidelines the EC must follow in holding a new round of polling before October 20, including using the DNR’s database as the “main source to determine eligible voters”.
Currently, the commission is primarily working on processing voter re-registration forms and entering the information into its database, Thowfeek explained.
With the commission not yet having completed the process, it has extended its complaints filing deadline to 2:ooam.
“We are receiving complaints and will correct the mistakes based on the voter re-registration forms,” said EC Commission Member Ali Mohamed Manik. “The problem is that a large number of people want to be registered to vote at different locations [other than their home islands].”
Whether the EC can finish processing the re-registration forms by its goal of tomorrow morning has not yet been confirmed.
Thus far, 56,243 forms have been processed and the EC expects over 60,000 people to have re-registered – leaving approximately 10,000 forms remaining. After this process is finished, the commission hopes to begin printing the final voter registry tomorrow morning.
The EC has already provided political parties with the voter lists and will give them the finalized voter registry once it is completed.
“We hope the candidates will sign the voter registry, as responsible people. If they don’t then we will determine what to do at that point in time,” said Thowfeek. “We do not know what to say if they do not sign the registry. We don’t know whether the election can be held or not if that occurs.”
Meanwhile, the EC has completed printing the ballot papers – with candidate number two, President Mohamed Waheed having been removed – and is in the process of verifying and checking the ballots.
However, the commission cannot seal the ballots for transportation until after the voter registry has been finalised.
Additionally, all the elections officials have been selected and trained, however they cannot be sent to the polling station locations until the voter list is finalized, noted EC Secretary General Asim Abdul Sattar.
The EC is aiming for officials to depart to polling station locations on the islands tomorrow.
“If elections officials do not leave for London tomorrow night, there will be no ballots in London,” said Manik.
“For example, it would be really strange if you were asked to build a 10 story building in 10 days and then hand over the keys, but such a thing we are doing,” he continued. “This is not something we have ever experienced, we apologise for everything.”
“Last time we formed a timetable and followed it, but now we have minimal time, so we are trying to finish things as fast as we can,” he noted. “We are doing everything as per the Supreme Court guidelines.
“We need to consider the ongoing Cambridge O’Level examinations – that is also why we will hold the election Saturday,” he continued.
The EC noted that the holiday period had made their task even more difficult.
“Some temporary officials took leave for Hajj and Eid, however we cannot hire new staff because it each person requires two hours of training,” said Thowfeek.
“The government is giving a lot of assistance, which is the only reason the EC can keep going,” he noted. “We are working around the clock to hold the election on October 19.”
The Department of National Registration (DNR) provided the EC with the details of their database, however they have since amended some of the information and still need to provide their updated registry to the commission, explained Manik. We are still talking with the DNR to resolve the issue.
He also noted that the EC is working with the DNR to verify individuals’ records and address complaints the commission has received.
“For example, according to the DNR, Moomina Haleem [the country’s first female cabinet minister] is deceased, however we met with her and determined it was actually her husband that died. So we have to make sure people like Moomina Haleem do not lose their right to vote, explained Thowfeek.
“Now an individual can only cast their vote if all their personal information is correct [in accordance with the DNR’s database,” he noted.
Today the DNR admitted it had “faced difficulties in obtaining information on people who have passed away abroad”.
“We are following the Supreme Court guidelines; we are doing everything as they’ve said,” Thowfeek emphasised. “We will take action against those who conduct fraud.”
“By the will of Allah we will do everything we can to hold the election on October 19,” he added.