The Supreme Court last night issued a ruling ordering the Elections Commission (EC) to continue to abide by the guidelines in its October 7 verdict scuttling the results of the first round in September.
The latest ruling declared that “as the aforementioned presidential election not being held on the dates in the judgment is not a legally justifiable reason for not holding the election in accordance with the guidelines provided in Supreme Court case number 42/SC-C/2013, [the Supreme Court] informs and orders the Elections Commission and all relevant institutions of the Maldivian state to hold the presidential election that must be held in 2013 in accordance with the guidelines provided in Supreme Court number 42/SC-C/2013.”
The guidelines included holding the election before October 20, as well as demanding that all parties sign the voter lists, effectively giving presidential candidates power of veto.
The day before the election candidates Abdulla Yameen and Gasim Ibrahim had still not signed the voter lists and were not responding to phone calls from the EC or officials sent to their homes.
The pair, who received 25.35 percent and 24.07 percent respectively in the annulled first round, subsequently demanded extensive fingerprint verification of the new voters’ registry – another Supreme Court demand, issued at midnight on October 10. The evening before polls were due to open, both sought a Supreme Court ruling demanding that the election be delayed.
Receiving only a brief instruction from the court to follow its guidelines, the EC prioritised the guideline requiring an election before Oct 20 and proceeded with the vote. However, staff attempting to leave the commission’s office with ballot documents and equipment just hours prior to polls opening were obstructed by police.
Following the rescheduling of the election for November 9 – just two days before the end of the presidential term – Elections Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek labelled the Supreme Court’s guidelines as “restrictions” and expressed concern that they effectively allowed political parties to stop elections from happening.
“We have said that when we get to a certain point, when a certain party doesn’t do what they must do, it should not affect the entire election. If that is the case, we will never be able to hold an election,” Thowfeek said, following meetings with the President, the cabinet and political parties.
“They assured us they will not allow for these kind of obstructions in the upcoming election. Ministers have given us commitment that they will find a solution and facilitate this. That is why we have started work again. If the same thing happened as before, this is not something we must do. We are starting work again because we are confident there will be an election. I am certain we will succeed this time,” he added.
“I hope the government considers these restrictions in the future and finds a solution. Otherwise, holding elections will become impossible and that affects the most fundamental [right] in a democracy,” he said.
Last night’s Supreme Court ruling
“The constitution of the Republic of Maldives obligates the Elections Commission and all relevant state institutions to ensure that the presidential election that must be held in the Maldives in 2013 is one where all Maldivian citizens eligible to vote is able to exercise the right [to vote] freely and without any kind of obstacle,” read the Supreme Court edict, signed by Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain.
“The elections must be held in accordance with the guidelines stated in the Supreme Court case number 42/SC-C/2013 to ensure that elections held in the Maldives are fair and conducted transparently in line with the principles specified in article 170 of the constitution of the Republic of Maldives,” read the edict.
The integrity of the Supreme Court has meanwhile come under increasing criticism, domestically and abroad.
Following the Supreme Court’s indefinite suspension of the first round despite local and international praise of the vote as free, fair and democratic, Transparency Maldives warned “the failure of parliament and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to address alleged integrity issues of the Supreme Court judges have “created avenues for political and other actors to question the conduct, injunctions and verdicts of the Supreme Court”.
Prior to his registration as a presidential candidate Gasim was a member of the JSC, and was responsible for rejecting a recommendation from the JSC’s own subcommittee recommending that Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed be suspended pending an investigation into his leaked sex tapes.
The sex tapes and suspension of the election have resulted in escalating protests targeting the courts, with large pairs of white underpants quickly becoming widely adopted as a protest symbol.
“Expeditious resolution of such allegations and issues is imperative to ease rising tensions in the election environment and prevent the derailment of democratic processes,” said Transparency Maldives in its statement.
“Relevant state institutions, including the Judicial Service Commission and the Parliament of the Maldives must expedite the resolution of these issues and allegations, in a transparent manner free of conflict of interest, to reduce questioning of and allegations of partisan bias in such processes.”
UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, raised concern over the politicisation and impartiality of the Supreme Court as far back as May.
Knaul expressed “shock to hear that many members of the judiciary, including in the Supreme Court, hold memberships in political parties.”
Conflicts of interest and the resulting impact on judges’ impartiality was a concern, noted Knaul.
“It seems that judges, and other actors of the State, do not want to fully acknowledge and understand this concept, leading to the dangerous perception from the public that the justice system is politicised and even corrupted,” she said.
The Supreme Court, she noted, had been “deciding on the constitutionality of laws ex-officio, without following appropriate examination procedures, under the understanding that they are the supreme authority for the interpretation of the Constitution.”