Week in review: September 22-26

With fears mounting that the ongoing Supreme Court case would derail the second round of the presidential election, the week began with Majlis being called to an extraordinary session by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Government aligned MPs created chaos during the ill-tempered sitting, which passed a resolution calling for state institutions to ensure the poll proceeds – with a show of hands.

Later the same evening (September 23), the Supreme Court issued an injunction ordering all state institutions to indefinitely delay the run-off until it had completed its case. Hearings this week saw a procession of anecdotal witnesses describing their voting issues –  with the Jumhooree Party party concluding its case by arguing that its evidence could be extrapolated to indicate systemic failings. The JP also cited the Attorney General’s contribution in the case – labelled as legal but morally questionable by one legal expert – as lending weight to its argument.

The Elections Commission’s legal team disputed the credibility of the JP’s evidence, which included anonymised witnesses citing speculation and rumour, but also argued that even if factual the evidence submitted was not enough to impact the results of the first round.

The MDP’s National Council responded to the injunction by calling for continuous demonstrations and quickly re-establishing the party’s presence in the Raalhungandu area of Male’ for the purpose of peaceful protest. Speaking from the party’s new base, former President Mohamed Nasheed blamed the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Ahmed Faiz for allowing the disgraced Ali Hameed to remain on the bench as well as appealing to the military for assistance with the poll.

Hameed’s involvement in a sex-tape scandal earlier this year provided the initial the theme for MDP protests outside courthouses across the country, with large pairs of white underpants used to decry the general state of the judiciary. Numerous people on the island of Rasdhoo were arrested after hanging a pair outside the Magistrate Court.

Transparency Maldives chose to take aim at the Majlis and the Judicial Services Commission for the collapse of the court’s integrity. Former JSC member Aishath Velezinee spoke with Minivan News this week, explaining the background to the current judicial crisis.

The international community responded with universal concern, prompting President Dr Mohamed Waheed to lash out at such “irresponsible statements”. The EC promptly announced that its first allegiance in such circumstances was to the constitution, and that it would proceed with its preparations as planned. Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek took time from these preparations to speak with Minivan News.

The first session following the injunction order saw the ejection of three of the Election Commission’s legal team, who were accused of contempt after public statements criticising the injunction. Rather than announcing its verdict on Thursday, the Supreme Court instead heard the case newly filed by the PPM, calling for a one month delay to the second round to enable time for campaigning.

Whilst the Ministry of Economic Development’s economic diversity report last week noted the country’s over-reliance on tourism had left if vulnerable to both financial and natural disasters, the report did not take note of political disasters. The MDP clearly did – calling on the country’s tourism workers to strike should the presidential run-off not go ahead.

The 5000 member strong Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM) threatened “prolonged” srtike action, whilst the Maldives Association for Tourism Industries (MATI) issued a statement warning of “irreparable consequences” to the Maldivian economy unless the election is expedited.

The clash of institutions appeared to have come to a head on Thursday evening when EC head Thowfeek announced the polls would proceed as scheduled on Saturday. The decision prompted a midnight ruling from the Supreme Court, reasserting its legal supremacy and calling on the police and military to enforce its will and halt poll preparations. Other members of the EC have given contradictory statements, whilst both the police and the Finance Ministry stated they would not assist the EC.

In other news

Aside from election activity this week, Bangladesh – provider of most of the Maldives expatriate labour – announced it would halt worker migration whilst it checked on eligibility.

Elsewhere in the courts, the Juvenile Court sentenced a teenage couple to prison and house arrest after they exchanged a kiss in the waiting room. The High Court, meanwhile called for a re-trial in the case of Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim’s alleged fraud of the Atolls Ministry.

Outside of Male’, the case of a dead infant in Villimale’ sparked a police investigation, whilst on Guraidhoo, islanders are have begun nightly fanditha patrols to prevent further malevolent activity causing local unrest.

The fallout from the Salaf  ‘Al Andhalus’ sermon continued, with the Maldives Broadcasting Commission finding that the TVM broadcast did not violate its guidelines. The group itself has requested that other groups in society not use its name for political ends.