The Supreme Court has issued a new ruling Saturday (October 12) allowing reporters and observers to carry “necessary items to perform professional duties” into polling stations.
The ruling follows a media outcry over the apex court’s prohibition on carrying any item except a pen into polling stations, stipulated in its 16 point guidelines for the holding of new presidential elections on October 19. The Supreme Court annulled the first round of polls held on September 7, following a petition by the third-placed candidate, Gasim Ibrahim.
The latest statement, signed by Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz, read: “[The Supreme Court] orders there not be any obstruction from any party to journalists and observers from using necessary objects to carry out their professional duties.”
“The purpose of the Supreme Court guidelines was to ensure elections proceed free and fairly [without intimidation, aggression, undue influence or corruption], not to impede professional duties of journalists and observers who act within the law,” the ruling read.
The Elections Commission welcomed the Supreme Court’s ruling at a press conference on Saturday night, stating that the media will now be allowed to carry cameras and observers will be allowed to carry items necessary to monitor the election.
Elections Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek said the commission was working around the clock to abide by the Supreme Court guidelines and ensure elections took place within the 12 day time-frame the Supreme Court had given to hold elections.
A midnight ruling from the Supreme Court on October 10 ordered the commission to disregard re-registration efforts for the annulled presidential elections, and restart the entire process with fingerprinted forms for all voters who wish to vote in a location other than their permanent address.
However, despite requiring fingerprinted forms, the Elections Commission said it did not have the capacity to verify if the forms carried the correct fingerprints.
“The Supreme Court verdict does not say we have to verify [fingerprints]. We don’t have the capacity to do that. No institution does. But if we notice a problem, we can take those particular forms to the police for investigation,” Elections Commission member Ali Mohamed Manik said.
The 24-hour period for re-registration expired at 4:30 pm today. Manik said the commission had re-registered 10,340 people by 7:30 pm, but expected to process over 60,000 forms by Sunday evening. 65,000 people re-registered to vote ahead of the annulled September 7 poll.
Manik said over 3000 re-registration tokens required processing at 7:30 pm, but said the commission would honor all tokens. Ten forms can be submitted on every token, but political parties are allowed to submit any number of forms on tokens.
“Some political parties have bundles of 10,000 to 15,000 forms,” Manik said. The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said it had prepared over 33,000 forms.
Once the re-registration process is completed the voter registry will be publicised, and three representatives from each presidential candidate will be asked to approve voter lists for every single ballot box, Manik said.
The voter registry is expected to be ready by October 14, Monday, he added.
The Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) had criticised the EC’s 24 hour re-registration window as an act to “ridicule” the Supreme Court guidelines.
In response Thowfeek said: “We are not ridiculing anyone. We are working 24-hours to abide by the Supreme Court guidelines. No matter what time you come, whether its 12:00am, 1:00am, 2:00am, you will see everyone here is hard at work, they are staying up.”
The Elections Commission will be holding information sessions for media and observers on Sunday and Monday. The names of officials who will be acting on behalf of the elections commission on polling day will be sent ahead of the election for vetting to presidential candidates as per point eight of the Supreme Court guidelines, Thowfeek said.
Point eight states that all officials must be appointed with the knowledge of candidates or their representatives to ensure that all officials in voting districts are safe from allegations of supporting or representing a particular political ideology or candidate.
New ballot papers with improved security features are also being printed as per point 12 of the Supreme Court Guideline. The EC is printing 242,625 ballot papers, and is currently in discussion with the Maldives Police Services on transporting ballot papers to polling stations.
“We couldn’t do this by ourselves. All institutions are helping out. The police, the Department of National registration, the Civil Service Commission,” Manik said.
He also said that the commission was “positive” it would be able to ensure elections took place on October 19.