Former Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed, running mate of resort tycoon and presidential candidate Gasim Ibrahim, has told the Supreme Court that positive assessments of the September 7 presidential poll by local and international election observers “do not carry much weight”.
Dr Saeed – who is now leading the Jumhooree Party (JP)’s legal bid to annul the election results in the Supreme Court – made the remarks during the second hearing of the party’s case against the Election Commission (EC) held on Wednesday.
Dr Saeed told the Supreme Court that statements made by both local and international observers that the election had proceeded smoothly and freely did not reflect the reality of the situation.
“Yes, I even agree that the voting process went very smoothly. But those foreign observers don’t know the depth of the issues. Their words do not carry much weight. Some of the elections which have been observed by the international observers, some people have died, but yet they have reported the election went smoothly,” Saeed told the court.
He also claimed the JP – which narrowly missed a place in the run-off with 24.07 percent of the vote – had sufficient evidence and witnesses who would testify in court that electoral discrepancies and irregularities had taken place.
Dr Saeed also declared that Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukoor’s acknowledgement of electoral discrepancies during the first round of presidential elections gives weight to the party’s allegations of electoral fraud.
During the first hearing of the case, Attorney General Shukoor told the court the AG’s Office had also found discrepancies in the voter list, including underage people listed as eligible for voting, and the mixing up of voter information – including gender, address, and date of birth.
Addressing the seven-member Supreme Court bench, Saeed also alleged the EC was not following a High Court order issued Tuesday (September 17) to allow viewing of the original voter list at the commission. Saeed claimed that despite repeated requests – both verbal and written – the commission was yet to give any response.
The High Court ruled that it was a right of all presidential candidates and their affiliated political parties to view the original voter list and ordered the EC to allow this to take place at the commission in presence of its officials.
Instead, Saeed claimed, the EC lawyers had dismissed as baseless and unfounded JP’s evidence suggesting electoral fraud, without giving the party the chance to verify it evidences against the commission’s data. This action by the EC, the former Attorney General contested, disregarded the doctrine of ‘Clean Hand’.
The ‘Clean Hand’ doctrine is a rule of law that a person coming to court with a lawsuit or petition for a court order must be free from unfair conduct (have “clean hands” or not have done anything wrong) in regard to the subject matter of his/her claim.
During the hearing, Saeed also criticised the EC’s Ballot Progress Reporting System (BPRS) – a web based application that tallied the number of voters who had cast their vote or are in the queue to vote – contesting that it had several weaknesses and loopholes.
He claimed that the entire application was built without due consultation with the National Center for Information Technology (NCIT) – a government agency responsible for management of IT systems within government institutions. Instead, Saeed claimed the system had been built and designed by Indian IT specialists.
Saeed also noted that the EC members had previously acknowledged that the BPRS were having problems and yet, at the same time the EC had claimed that there was no possibility of double voting. This, Saeed contested, did not make any sense, and he alleged there was a difference between the number shown by the BPRS that had voted and the EC’s figures obtained through manual counting. He challenged why the commission had not shifted to the manual system when the electronic mechanism collapsed.
In response to the arguments raised by the EC lawyers during Tuesday’s hearing, Saeed said the country would not go into a constitutional void even if a new president failed to take the oath of the office on November 11 – the date on which the term of incumbent President Mohamed Waheed Hassan expires.
Reflecting on the delay in electing the new parliament in 2009, Saeed claimed that no one had challenged the legitimacy of the parliament even when it had been elected months after the date mentioned in the constitution.
“We need to ensure that the person who is elected by the popular vote of the people takes the oath as the president. Not someone who has found their way to it by deception and cheating. Right now, we are no longer sure whether it is the person who the people voted is taking the office,” Saeed told the court.
Saeed also requested the court issue an order to the police to investigate the party’s allegations of electoral fraud.
EC’s counter argument
EC Lawyer and former Attorney General Husnu Al Suood responded to Saeed’s arguments claiming the Attorney General’s acknowledgment of issues during the voting process did not substantiate the JP’s baseless allegations.
He repeated his arguments claiming that the JP has till to this day, failed to produce any substantial evidence to support their claims, let alone annul the elections.
Suood also claimed that the General Elections Act – the parent legislation on general election procedures and issues – did not envision the annulment of an entire election, but rather only allows the annulment of the results of ballot boxes in which discrepancies were proven in court.
He claimed that factors that could lead to annulment of the results of a ballot box were criminal offences such as bribery and illegal influencing of voting, and therefore any claim of electoral discrepancies must be proved by the standard of proof required for criminal offences: beyond reasonable doubt.
Suood also reiterated that the JP’s claim that its evidence was based on information obtained from the party’s own hotline and private investigations lacked any value as evidence, and that it was not sufficient to annul elections.
He also criticised the request made by the Attorney General Azima Shukoor to order the Elections Commission to suspend holding the run-off elections until the issues had been resolved, describing it as a request for an indefinite order that could put the entire state in a state of limbo.
Suood also claimed that if the Supreme Court went on to issue such an order as requested by the Attorney General, it would lead to the suspension of the entire constitution.
“We are not aligned towards the JP” – Attorney General Azima Shukoor
Speaking during the hearing, Attorney General Azima Shukoor told the court that the State was not taking sides in the legal dispute between the JP and the EC, while maintaining that it had not admitted to any claims made by the JP.
However, the Attorney General repeated her claims that the AG’s Office had come across discrepancies in the voter registry published by the EC prior to the election.
“There were names of underage people in the list. There were names repeated in the list. Unless these issues are not resolved before holding the second round of the elections, rights of many voters will be undermined,” Shukoor told the court.
She also claimed that the State should and would be concerned when a group of 50,000 people came up to it seeking justice.
“What is happening here is that one party is claiming that there were discrepancies in the voting process while the other party is simply questioning the authenticity of the claim,” Shukoor said.
“How can those allegations be verified unless the Elections Commission allows access to the information of the voting? Here, we are speaking about one party who has the information but is refusing to share it in order to verify the claims,” Shukoor claimed.
She also questioned the panel of judges as to whether the EC should go on to hold the second round of elections with the allegations and claims unanswered.
However, the Attorney General claimed that she still had faith in the Elections Commission’s ability to resolve the issues, but said this could only be done if the commission gave up its “defensive approach” and showed openness to look into the claims.
Shukoor also said the Attorney General’s decision to intervene in the case was only to bring the issues it had found to the notice of the judges and to seek a remedy to them, and that the government did not wish to take a stand on whether the election should be annulled or not.
Meanwhile, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s lawyers told the court that the party had accepted the outcome of the results and had not come up with any discrepancies during the elections that would affect the outcome.
The party also echoed similar sentiments as that of the EC’s lawyer Suood, claiming that the JP’s evidence could not be considered as admissible evidence by the courts.
The next hearing will be held on Thursday morning (September 19) at 11:00am.