Additional reporting by Mohamed Naahii, Neil Merrett and Zaheena Rasheed
Read the verdict (Dhivehi)
The Supreme Court has annulled the first round of the 2013 presidential elections citing electoral irregularities, despite unanimous positive assessment of the polling by more than a thousand local and international election observers.
The 4:3 verdict cited a confidential police report submitted to the court allegedly claiming that 5600 votes were ineligible. The report has not been made public and was not shown to the Election Commission’s defence lawyers.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed emerged the front-runner with 45.45 percent of September 7’s vote, while half-brother of former President Gayoom, Abdulla Yameen, came second with 25.35 percent.
Gasim Ibrahim, resort tycoon and member of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) until his candidacy, came third with 24.07 percent of the vote, and filed a case demanding the result be annulled after declaring “God willing, Gasim will be President on November 11”.
Incumbent President Mohamed Waheed, who ran in coalition with the Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP), received just 5.13 percent of the vote. The DRP subsequently allied with the MDP. It is uncertain if Waheed will run independently again, or form a coalition with Yameen.
The Supreme Court indefinitely suspended the second round on September 23, issuing a supplementary midnight ruling on September 26 ordering the police and military to forcibly prevent the Elections Commission from holding the second round.
The EC had said it intended to comply with the constitutionally-mandated deadline for the run-off of September 28, but was forced to capitulate after it was surrounded by special operations police with orders to storm the building, arrest officials and confiscate ballot papers.
The court’s annulment of the result follows two weeks of street protests, strikes, travel warnings and rumblings of concern from top ranks in the military.
Gasim’s legal team, led by his running mate Dr Hassan Saeed, sought to annul the poll on the grounds that it was a “systematic failure”. Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and Attorney General Azima Shukoor – Yameen’s former lawyer – sided with Gasim in court against the Elections Commission.
The EC disputed the credibility of the evidence presented against the polls, which besides the secret police report, included hearsay and speculative testimony from 14 anonymised witnesses. It also noted that even if factual the evidence was not sufficient to impact the results of the first round. The EC’s head lawyer, former Attorney General Husnu Suood, was subsequently ejected for contempt of court.
The majority ruling to annul the election was given by Justices Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi, Abdulla Saeed, Adam Mohamed – also Chair of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) – and Ali Hameed, currently under investigation by police and the JSC for his appearance in multiple leaked sex tapes involving unidentified foreign women in a Colombo hotel room. While on the JSC, Gasim had voted against the JSC’s investigating subcommittee’s own recommendation to suspend the judge, and labelled the tapes “fake”.
In the verdict, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain, Justice Abdulla Areef and Justice Muthasim Adnan argued that Gasim’s Jumhoree Party (JP) had failed to show sufficient grounds to annul the poll.
In issuing the majority ruling, Justice Abdulla Didi said the Supreme Court had sought the assistance of Forensic Investigations Directorate of the Maldives Police Service in carrying out a documentary analysis and comparison of the documents submitted by the JP as evidence, against the original voter list used by the EC officials at the polling booths.
Justice Didi noted that the report by the police investigation team – which according to him consisted of technical experts – had produced a report that claimed 5,623 ineligible votes had been cast during the poll.
The ineligible votes, as per Justice Didi, had included: votes cast under the name of dead people, votes cast by underage children, double voting and votes cast under unregistered National Identification Cards.
Didi in the ruling claimed that the figure quoted in the police report exceeded the narrow margin between the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and JP Candidate Gasim Ibrahim, who finished the race in second and third position respectively.
Didi also said that EC’s actions amounted to undermining of the people’s right to vote and conflicted with the concept of Universal Suffrage which had been acknowledged in the constitution.
He also noted although a new president is unable to be sworn in on November 11 – the date on which the current presidential term expires – the country would not go into a state of constitutional limbo as the principle of continuity of legitimate government would override any repercussions faced by failure to adhere to constitutional deadlines.
Therefore, the first round of presidential election held on September 7 lacked any legal grounds to be considered legitimate, Justice Didi declared.
With the declaration, the four Justices who had formed the majority ruling laid down an interim schedule for the holding of fresh elections.
According to the schedule, the fresh presidential elections are to be scheduled by October 20, and a second round – if required – is to be held on November 3.
The Supreme Court also laid down guidelines which the EC was ordered to follow, including giving the police a substantive role in handling the logistics and security of the election and ballot papers.
The court also ordered the EC to collaborate with the National Center for Information Technology (NCIT) and other government institutions to enhance the security of its database and network server.
MDP protesters gathered near the Supreme Court as the verdict was given greeted the announcement of the October 20 deadline with cautious optimism, noting the second chance for a first round victory.
“We will win in a first round with 150,000 votes. We will beat them down with votes. We will beat the Supreme Court judges,” said MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy, while the party’s running mate Mustafa Lutfi called for a ‘celebratory march’.
Not all in the crowd were as enthused. There was an air of latent anger, disappointment and determination.
One woman shouted at the police monitoring the protest: “Traitors! You facilitated one coup, now a second coup, you will do it again. But we will beat you down with votes.”
Yameen’s running mate and Gayoom’s former Justice Minister, Dr Mohamed Jameel, welcomed the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“This time around there will be a certain guideline which Elections Commission (EC) must follow,” he said. “I think based on the judgement of the Supreme Court, the head of the EC must resign as a moral and legal step.”
88 percent of the country’s 240,000-odd eligible voters cast their ballots in the first round, many of them for the first time.
First-time voter Mohamed Haisham, 19, said today’s Supreme Court ruling had only been a victory for the country’s rich elite, keen to keep resort profits to themselves.
“In my opinion, [JP candidate] Gasim did this. He used his wealth and power to buy the election. However, people are aware of this now, he will not get as many votes this time around.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the fresh election was scheduled on Oct 20 with run-offs on Nov 3. According to the court, elections are to be held BY Oct 20 with run-offs BY Nov 3. A written verdict had yet to be released as of 3:00pm Tuesday.