The Supreme Court has ordered the Elections Commission (EC) to hand over the original voter lists of all ballot boxes placed during the recent first round of Presidential Elections held on September 7.
A Supreme Court battle between the EC and Jumhooree Party (JP) ensued this week after the latter announced its decision to dismiss the outcome of the presidential poll after narrowly missing out a place in the run-off election with 24.07 percent of the vote. The party accused the EC of electoral discrepancies and irregularities that altered the results of the poll to the JP’s disadvantage.
During the third day of continuous proceedings of the case held today (September 19), the Supreme Court ordered the EC to hand over the voter lists – which had been used by the election officials at polling stations to check off the names of voters who had cast their ballot – claiming the list was required “for the purpose of the presiding judges”.
Today’s proceedings began with the seven-member judges panel giving the JP the opportunity to question the members of the EC.
Elections Commission Members Ibrahim ‘Ogaru’ Waheed, Ali Mohamed Manik and commission Chair Fuwad Thowfeek were present at the hearing along with the commission’s legal team, led by veteran lawyer and former Attorney General Husnu Al Suood.
The JP’s legal team led by running mate of JP’s Presidential Candidate Gasim Ibrahim, Dr Hassan Saeed, posed questions to EC Chair Thowfeek regarding the party’s allegations that included: possibilities of double voting, registration of people on Male Municipality Register – a special registry of people residing in the capital without owning homes – without permit, underage voters and allegations of expatriates voting in the poll.
Saeed – who is himself a former Attorney General – also posed questions regarding the security features included in the ballot paper, the failure of the EC’s Ballot Progress Reporting system (BPRS) – a web based application that tallied the number of voters who had cast their vote or were in the queue to vote – and whether Indian IT specialists who had been working in the commission had a role in developing BPRS and whether it was possible that soft copies of ballot papers were leaked.
Responding to Saeed’s questions, EC Chair Thowfeek said the commission had only registered people in Male Municipality’s Register to the current addresses they were living with the intent to allow them easy access to polling. Thowfeek maintained that it was not permanent and was only for purpose of presidential polls.
Thowfeek also said that it was near-impossible for anyone to cast a vote twice since the commission had a strong mechanism to check for double voting that included use of indelible ink, checks for fake National ID cards and verification of electoral lists in cases of repeated entries.
He also said that allegations of votes cast under the names of underage and deceased people during the polls – levied by both the JP and the Attorney General Azima Shukoor – were unfounded because the EC had verified the voter list with the database of Department of National Registration (DNR).
Thowfeek also said that in a bid to further verify the issue of deceased people the commission had cross-checked the voter list against registries of people who passed away collected from local councils as well as the burial house located in Male’ Cemetery.
He also said the commission had not come across cases of expatriates voting in the election, but did tell the court that former head of DNR Ahmed Firaaq had told him that the DNR under its current management had “accidentally” issued a Maldivian national ID card to a Bangladeshi expatriate, who was later caught while attempting to obtain a Maldivian passport.
Explaining the reason behind BPRS system not working as expected, Thowfeek said that failed internet connections on some islands were the major reason for its under-performance. He also confirmed to the court that the BPRS was not built by the Indian IT experts nor did they have any role in the preparations of the presidential polls.
In response to the doubts cast by Saeed on security features of the ballot papers, Thowfeek responded stating that the commission had added three security features to the ballot paper that included: a watermark seal at the back of the ballot paper, a security code that shows different codes if viewed from each side and another security code that can only be seen through a special light.
He added that the commission had tested the ballot paper prior to the commencement of polling while maintaining that the security of the ballot papers had been intact from day one.
“I am extremely confident that no one, no one can come out and show an original ballot paper. It is impossible for anyone to come up with an original ballot paper to prove that it went out of our hands,” Thowfeek told the court.
After Thowfeek’s answers, Saeed told the court that despite today being the third hearing of the case, the EC had refused to give them the original voter list.
Saeed noted that it was the EC and the DNR that had the pivotal information that the party sought to verify the claims, and unless both agencies begin cooperating with them, their claims would remain unclarified, undermining the rights of 50,000 people who had voted for the JP’s candidate.
“When I first began practicing law in 1997, I often come across people who claim they had been tortured while in custody. They would say, look my arm was broken and it had not still recovered. But whenever they went to court, the judge would demand evidence. But all they had to say is it was the police and had nothing prove their claim. Today, the JP is in such a circumstance,” Saeed told the court.
Saeed claimed that last Wednesday night he had seen a video of an expatriate lady confessing that she had voted in the presidential polls and the video showed what he claimed was an indelible ink mark on her finger.
“Honourable Chief Justice, we are talking about an expatriate gaining our citizenship. We are talking about a case where an expatriate practiced a constitutional right given to a Maldivian citizen. Tomorrow, that expatriate will get medical expenses covered under Aasandha. That expatriate can own Maldivian land [just like a Maldivian citizen],” Saeed said.
“When I called the police commissioner, he said he can only investigate after Elections Commission gives a heads up. I said I am hanging up the phone. I called the Prosecutor General. He said he couldn’t do much. Honourable Justice, this is the situation we are talking about,” Saeed added.
EC’s lawyer Suood responded to Saeed’s statement claiming that Saeed had finally confessed that their claims did not carry any weight.
Suood however reiterated that the EC were prepared to hand over the original voter list should the Supreme Court order to do so but raised concerns over the undermining of the privacy of the people in the list.
Suood repeated his argument that should the list be given to JP, it would undermine the privacy of the voters including their national ID Card numbers, their date of birth, whether they had voted or not and if they did vote, which ballot box had they voted.
While the hearing was about to conclude, several Supreme Court Judges including Judge Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi, JSC Chair and Judge Adam Mohamed, Judge and former Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, Judge Ali Hameed and Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz posed questions to Thowfeek, inquiring regarding the JP’s allegations and concerns.
Concluding the hearings, Chief Justice Faiz said that another hearing of the case would be scheduled, but did not specify a date.