The Supreme Court has held the first hearing into a case filed by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Appeal Committee Member Ahmed Zaneen Adam against the Elections Commission, contesting its credibility ahead of the scheduled Presidential Elections.
On Monday, Zaneen filed a case at the Supreme Court requesting it order an audit of the commission’s IT systems through an independent IT auditor to “ensure they are credible”.
Presenting his case today (August 29), Zaheen claimed that he had filed the case as a “Public Interest Litigation” case based on three grounds.
The first point – founded upon two articles written on local newspaper Haveeru, one article titled “Elections Commission’s server under continuous attack” and the other titled “Haveeru’s web developers concerned over security of Election Commission’s IT system” – Zaneen claimed that it was necessary in a world where “powerful states are trying to control smaller states” to conduct an independent audit on the Elections Commission’s IT system for security breaches.
In his second point, the PPM Appeal Committee member contested that an extraordinarily huge amount of forms had been submitted to the Elections Commission when it had opened its voter re-registration.
Voter re-registration is required by law, should a person such who is voting in an island which he/she is not originally registered in such as a student from an island studying in Male and Maldivians residing abroad.
Zaneen claimed that the public was very concerned regarding the number of forms submitted for re-registration and pleaded the Supreme Court to order the Elections Commission to have the final voter list of all ballot boxes sealed and signed by all political party campaign agents, before being sent to polling stations.
On the third point, he requested the Supreme Court rule that the security services, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and the police have a legal mandate to oversee the election process and vote counting process to ensure that security is maintained throughout the process.
Responding to the case, Head of the Elections Commission’s legal team, former Attorney General Husnu Al Suood, contested that Zaneen’s case lacked any legal grounds and that he had filed a case requesting preventive measures from Supreme Court based on his personal concerns and doubts.
Suood further challenged that as Zaneen was not a candidate in the presidential elections, he did not have the legal capacity to file such a case and requested the court dismiss the matter.
Responding to the first and second points, Suood argued that Zaneen had not followed the due process in filing his concerns, claiming that the Elections Commission had set up the National Elections Complaints Bureau (NECB) to hear complaints and the law allowed an appeal to be filed at the High Court, should a person feels discontent about the bureau’s decision.
Suood also argued that the final voter list used by the Elections Commission was a physically printed list and that it had nothing to do with the data stored on the server of the elections commission, claiming that no online security breach could possibly influence the outcome of the vote.
He also said that the physical list was a verified and error-checked list that had the seal and signature of three members of the Elections Commission.
Responding to the third point, Suood claimed that under the constitution, the Elections Commission had sole authority to conduct and hold elections and would operate independently. The role of the security services, Suood contended, was to assist the Elections Commission throughout the election process.
The former Attorney General also claimed that a presidential election conducted under the watch of the military would not be seen by the democratic world as a free and fair election.
Summing up his response, Suood told the seven-member Supreme Court that it was not sensible to carry out a case filed against the Elections Commisson based on an individual’s personal perception and needlessly create doubt over the election’s credibility.
Meanwhile, the members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s legal team – who had been able to intervene at the last minute – echoed similar sentiments to Suood, contending that should the Supreme Court issue an injunction based on a case filed on personal perception and doubt, it would destroy all constitutional and legal principles established in the constitution and law.
The MDP’s legal tea,m headed by former Solicitor General Ibrahim Riffath, added that it was saddening and deeply regrettable to see a case filed against the Elections Commission that did not have any written evidence to support itself, or even grounds of proof required in a civil case.
Riffath also contested that it was the constitutional duty of the Elections Commission, and not the security service, to enforce the law concerning elections and voting. He added that the constitution explicitly states that independence of independent institutions must be ensured at all times.
Today’s hearing – heard by the full seven member bench of the Supreme Court – was adjourned but the judges did not state when the next would be scheduled.