Additional reporting by JJ Robinson, Daniel Bosley and Mohamed Naahii.
With just hours to go before polls are scheduled to open and with the voter lists still unsigned by two of the three candidates, the Elections Commission held a press conference to declare that voting will proceed as planned.
“Ultimately, the Supreme Court has ruled to not delay the elections,” said Elections Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek, reading out the Supreme Court’s ruling following the court’s early morning crisis meeting.
“’We inform you the Supreme Court verdict no 2013/SC-C/42 delineates how the 2013 Maldives presidential election is to be conducted,” Thowfeek read.
The Jumhooree Party (JP) and Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) sought a court order of Friday evening to delay the election, while the Elections Commission (EC) requested the court clarify how it was to proceed.
The Supreme Court’s guidelines issued following its annulment of the first round of polling said the EC was to hold elections before October 20 with the support of relevant state institutions, Thowfeek noted.
He highlighted President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s statement on Friday, in which the president called on all parties to facilitate the election to proceed as planned in line with the guidelines on October 19.
Thowfeek said the commission had chartered flights to dispatch ballot boxes to the atolls. However, they were initially unable to do so because the police had suspended their support while political parties sought a ruling at the Supreme Court.
EC Member Ali Manik said he had spoken to the police who had confirmed their support to hold elections as per the Supreme Court’s guidelines.
Thowfeek appealed to the police to uphold their responsibilities and support the EC.
“The PPM and JP failed to [sign the lists]. I believe their failure to do what they should do must not stop the entire system. Just because one person fails to do their duties, refuses to do what they must do, it does not mean everyone else must stop their work, and deprive the Maldivian citizen’s of their right to vote,” Thowfeek stated.
“It is not only the candidate right to vote, but also the citizen’s right. All citizens who have been waiting for [the vote] must get their rights.”
Shortly after the EC’s early morning press conference, the police issued a statement at 5:30 am stating that police “will not support an election held in contravention of the Supreme Court verdict and guidelines.”
In a letter addressed to Thowfeek, the police informed the commissioner “when the Supreme Court has ordered state institutions to ensure compliance with [its guidelines], the police will not support an election that contravenes the guidelines delineated in the verdict as such an act contravenes the Supreme Court verdict.”
The EC has meanwhile said polling may not start at 7:30am as planned in all areas as ballot boxes may not reach certain stations by then. But the EC estimates voting will begin at the latest by 12:00 noon and finish by 9:00pm tonight in the affected areas.
‘We have done the best [elections preparations] we could have done within 11 days,” EC Vice President Fayaz said.
The EC admitted there had been problems in voter re-registration with some voter’s re-registration status changed without their knowledge. However, the EC offered assurances that these problems had been solved.
“We have followed the Supreme Court’s guidelines in their verdict. However, we have had difficulties due to the time limit. We cannot go beyond October 19. We have been ordered to hold elections on October 19. We are doing that,” Fayaz said.
If all complaints are addressed then election will be free and fair, Manik said, and called on as many people as possible to come out and vote and to ensure a smooth and peaceful polling day.
“God willing, October 19 2013, today is the day the first round of presidential elections will be held, we are working for that,” Fuwad Thowfeek said.
The EC was due to start another press conference at 6:30am.
Unlawful election: PPM
The PPM has said it would not accept any election “that is held in contravention to the Supreme Court guidelines”, and appealed to the executive “to uphold the Constitution and the Supreme Court’s verdict.”
“The PPM believes the first round of the presidential elections to be held by the Elections Commission on October 19 2013 contravenes the Supreme Court guidelines in its verdict no 2013/SC-C/42 and such an election is an unlawful election,” the PPM statement read.
Refusal to sign lists
The JP and PPM refused to sign the voter lists – another stipulation in the Supreme Court’s October 7 guidelines – before the EC’s deadline on Friday morning, with the party’s candidates initially failing to respond to phone calls and EC officials sent to their houses.
EC Thowfeek said on Friday morning that he had contacted Supreme Court Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz about the lack of response from the two candidates: “He told me to keep trying. Send people to their homes and keep trying. He did not say what else we should do.”
The two respective candidates, Gasim Ibrahim and Abdulla Yameen, subsequently demanded time to review the voter lists and called for fingerprint verification of up to 10 percent of forms.
Pressed for time to distribute ballot materials and in the expectation that the JP and PPM would sign the voter lists, the EC began distributing ballot materials and unsigned lists to remote and overseas destinations such as the UK.
Ballot boxes began to be dispatched to atolls from 2:45am with the assistance of police speedboats. When commercial flights start at 6:00am, boxes will be transported to the more far flung atolls.
A police spokesperson said late on Friday evening that “the Maldives Police Service will continue to provide assistance to the EC in accordance with the guidelines laid down by Supreme Court.”
The signing of the voter lists by all candidates was one of the Supreme Court’s new guidelines for the election – along with holding it before October 20.
Both the Jumhoree Party (JP) and the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) requested on Friday evening that the Supreme Court order Saturday’s re-scheduled election not to go ahead without all parties having signed the register.
PPM candidate Abdulla Yameen said on Friday he would not sign the voters’ registry until the party was sure it was free of any errors, whilst JP representatives suggested that at least two days were needed to check the list.
The Supreme Court’s October 7 annulment of the first round, in which front-runner Mohamed Nasheed received 45.45 percent of the vote, cited a confidential police report submitted to the court allegedly citing 5600 irregularities on the voting registry, ranging from repeated names to mismatched address details. The police report has not been made public and was not shown to the EC’s defence lawyers.
The court’s decision came despite the original poll being universally praised as free and fair by all international observers present during the first round, as well as local NGOs and the Human Rights Commission.
The court’s investigation into alleged electoral fraud in the first round were prompted by complaints filed by the party of third-placed candidate Gasim Ibrahim, who missed out on the run-off by just 2677 votes and subsequently declared “God Willing, Gasim will be president on November 11”.
Following the order on September 23 for all institutions to stop preparations for the second round pending the court’s decision, the EC’s determination to go ahead with the constitutionally-mandated election schedule prompted a further court order on September 26 for security services to stop election preparations by force if necessary.
A subsequent midnight Supreme Court on October 10 ordered the EC to restart the entire elections re-registration process in its entirety.
After re-registering more than 71,000 voters over several days – a process that normally takes between 45-60 days – the Elections Commission requested representatives from all party leaders to sign the completed lists the day before the election.
Of the three candidates only the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) Mohamed Nasheed has given the revised register his approval, with his party noting that the 0.61 percent error margin was “negligible”.
A meeting between the EC, party representatives and the Home Ministry at 9:00pm this evening reportedly ended in a stalemate, according to local media, with the JP and PPM insisting on time to verify the voter registry.
Nasheed on Friday afternoon had urged the EC to go ahead with the poll regardless of his opponents’ reluctance to sign the new register, in the absence of any further clarification from the Supreme Court.
“One of the views is that there is an obligation on the Elections Commissioner to have the elections on the 19th by the Supreme Court order. There are altogether 16 points in the guidelines. One of the points is to have the elections,” said Nasheed.