Supreme Court rules on Elections Commission case

Additional reporting by Daniel Bosley

The Maldives Supreme Court has today (September 2) issued its ruling on the case filed last week by Ahmed Zaneen Adam, questioning the Elections Commission’s (EC) ability to oversee the coming presidential election.

The Supreme Court has issued an order requiring all relevant authorities to ensure a free and fair presidential election on Saturday, local media reported. The ruling did not specifically address all of Zaneen’s concerns, however.

Senior member of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Zaneen, filed a case requesting an audit into the EC’s IT system as well as a ruling confirming the legal mandate of security services to ensure a secure election.

Whilst neither of these issues are reported to have been directly ruled upon by the court today, it did address issues concerning the electoral register.

Sun Online reported that the order –  issued by five of the bench’s seven judges – pointed out the register contained names and addresses that did not always match and also the names of deceased citizens.

Lists containing the names of deceased people was used by the police earlier this year to investigate complaints of fraudulent party membership forms.  Today’s ruling is also said to have revealed the absence on the register of voters who had relocated to Male’ between 2009-10 in order be rehoused as part of the Hulhumale’ development project.

The court stressed that it was the EC’s duty to correct such errors without being prompted by individual complaints. Despite his position with the PPM, the party insisted that the case had been filed in Zaneen’s personal capacity.

Responding to the case last Friday, head of the EC’s legal team, former Attorney General Husnu Al Suood, contested that Zaneen’s case lacked any legal grounds and that he had filed requested preventive measures based on his personal concerns and doubt.

Zaneen’s case came after weeks of criticism from both the PPM and the Jumhoree Party towards the EC, particularly concerning the commission’s  use of Indian IT staff.  EC chief Fuwad Thowfeek told Minivan News earlier this month that he was confident that no grounds for legal action existed.

“We have so much confidence in our work – we have done really good, professional work – that we are giving it openly [to the public] to see and tell the EC if we have incorrectly listed any person in the voter registry or if any person is missing,” he said.

“If anybody is missing from the list, we will very clearly tell them why the person is missing,” he added.

Thowfeek stressed that the EC had consistently acted with openness, working closely with –  listening to the complaints – of all parties.


Commonwealth to observe polling stations in nine atolls

A Commonwealth Observer Group has arrived in Maldives to witness the proceedings of the 2013 Presidential Elections, and assess the transparency and credibility of pre- and post- election activities.

The 17 male and female observers come from  Europe, North America, South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, with experience in politics, elections execution, diplomacy, and civil society. They will be traveling to nine atolls later this week for the September 7 election.

Group Chair and former Prime Minister of Malta Dr Lawrence Gonzi addressed the press today regarding the Commonwealth Group’s activities and intentions.

“Our task is to consider all the factors impinging on the credibility of the electoral process as a whole, and to assess whether the election is conducted according to the standards for democratic elections to which Maldives has committed itself, with reference to its own election legislation as well as relevant regional, Commonwealth and other international commitments,” Dr Gonzi said in a statement.

Gonzi specified that the group would consider “whether conditions exist for free and competitive elections; whether the Elections Commission is independent and effective; the transparency of the process; whether candidates have been free to campaign; whether public media has been impartial; whether voters are free to express their will; and whether the results process is transparent.”

He added that the group would be neutral, impartial, objective and independent in its activities and assessment.

“We are here in our individual capacities as eminent and experienced Commonwealth citizens. The assessment by the Group will be its own and not that of any member government,” Gonzi said.

The group has had informational meetings with representatives of the presidential candidates as well as the Elections Commission and other key stakeholders, and will continue to meet with these figures and relevant civil society organisations and NGOs, Gonzi noted.

He deflected questions about initial observations or concerns, however he did acknowledge that “there are issues related to procedures and processes.”

Earlier this week, Transparency International released its oversight plan for the 2013 elections proceedings, and Indian election observers arrived in Maldives. The United Nations has also announced that it will be sending an observer group to the country.

The Commonwealth Group said that it will be working cooperatively with these groups to gather information from all atolls and voting sites, “but we do have our own methods and tasks as mandated by the [Commonwealth] Secretary General.”

Observation of the Maldives’ first multi-party elections in 2008 and 2009 was conducted by Transparency Maldives, the Commonwealth Observer Group, and the Delegation of the European Commission to Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Domestic observation was supported by the Royal Embassy of the Netherlands, the Canadian International Development Agency, and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES). Transparency International’s report on the election noted that restrictions on accessibility to polling stations according to type of observational body created confusion.

The Observer Group will write its report and release it “as soon as possible” after the September 7 election. The group will remain involved in proceedings in the event of a second round.


EC to take submissions for presidential candidates

The Elections Commission (EC) has announced it will open the opportunity for presidential candidates to formally file their candidacy at the commission to contest in the presidential elections, beginning from next Monday until July 24.

The elections commission previously announced that the presidential elections will be held on September 7 and should a run-off election need to be held, it would be held 20 days after announcing the results of the first election.

So far, five individuals have declared their bid to contest in the elections. Candidates include leader of the Gaumee Iththihaadh Party (GIP) and incumbent President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Presidential Candidate and former President Mohamed Nasheed, government-aligned parties Jumhoree Party (JP) leader and business tycoon MP Gasim Ibrahim and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Presidential Candidate Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

Besides the four party candidates, former PPM Council Member and one of the founding members of the party, Dr Ahmed Saud, has announced he will contest the elections as an independent.

In a press conference held on Sunday, President of the Elections Commission Fuwad Thowfeek said the commission would determine a candidate’s eligibility to contest in the election within a period of 48 hours of its submission.

“The candidate will be informed whether he is eligible to contest in the election within a period of 48 hours. If the candidate is not satisfied with the decision of the commission, he will have an additional five days to file a case at the Supreme Court even after the deadline,” Thowfeek said.

Vice Chair of the Commission Ahmed Fayaz meanwhile said that the commission would strictly adhere to existing laws and regulations in conducting the elections.

He also highlighted that cases currently ongoing in the courts would not be a challenge to the commission or obstruct potential candidacy.

Currently, court cases involving former President Nasheed and President Waheed’s running mate Ahmed Thasmeen Ali are pending in the court system.

Nasheed currently has a criminal case pending at the Hulhumale Magistrate Court over the detention of Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

However, the case is currently suspended by a High Court injunction, after Nasheed raised procedural points in an appeal at the High Court. A date for commencement of the hearings of the appeal is yet to be announced after the last scheduled hearing was suspended.

Shortly after the cancelling of the hearing, Chief Judge of High Court Ahmed Shareef – who was among the three-member judges panel presiding over the case – was “indefinitely suspended” by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) as a “precautionary” action over a case lodged at the commission a year ago.

Meanwhile, Ahmed Thasmeen who leads the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) – one of the three parties remaining in President Waheed’s ‘Forward with the nation’ coalition – has a case against him at the Supreme Court, where former MDP MP Mohamed Musthafa is contesting the legitimacy of his parliamentary seat over non-payment of a decreed debt.

However, both Nasheed and Thasmeen’s case are unlikely to be concluded prior to the election, meaning both the candidates are for the time being eligible to contest.

According to the constitution, a presidential candidate and his running mate must be of minimum of 35 years of age, they must not have undischarged decreed debts, and should not have been convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to a term of more than 12 months, unless a period of three years has elapsed since release, or the offender pardoned. A candidate must not have been convicted of an offence for which a hadd is prescribed in Islam or of fraud, deception or criminal breach of trust.

According to statistics provided by the Elections Commission, 240,302 people will be eligible to cast their vote in the 2013 presidential elections, 31,008 more than the number of eligible voters in the 2008 presidential elections (209,294).

The commission had already published the eligible voters’ registry which received 2,279 complaints from the public regarding errors in the list. However, the commission has expressed confidence in resolving the issues highlighted in the registry.


Former education chief calls for security review after being assaulted in street

Former Education Minister Dr Musthafa Luthfy has called for a review of security arrangements afforded to Maldivian politicians by police over fears of an increase in “orchestrated” political attacks in the country.

The comments were made after former education chief Luthfy, who has also previously served as Chancellor of the Maldives National University, claimed he had been struck in the face on Saturday (October 6) by an unidentified assailant on the island of Kanduhulhudhoo, Gaafu Alif Atoll.

Footage of the attack has already been posted on media sharing websites Youtube.

The attack, which did not result in any significant injuries to the victim, occurred less than seven days after Progressive Party of Maldives MP Dr Afrasheem Ali was found murdered by his home.

On Thursday, parliament’s ‘241’ Security Committee summoned both Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz and media regulator, the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) to discuss issues including the MP’s murder, politician safety and allegations that media organisations had been “spreading hatred” against MPs.

recent report released by the Asia Foundation has alleged politicians and businessmen were paying gangs in the Maldives tens of thousands of rufiya to assault rivals, damage property, and in some cases have them killed.

While stressing that attacks on politicians within the country remained “rare” occurrences, Dr Luthfy claimed that it was the responsibility of police to ensure “order was maintained” across the nation amidst rising political tensions.

“It is rare that these sort of attacks happen, but the chance of similar incidents occurring in the future could be reduced by an increased police presence,” he said. “I accept there may be difficulty in getting sufficient numbers of officers onto different islands.”

According to Dr Lutfhy, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had registered a complaint with police after a male assailant appeared to punch him in the face whilst he was leaving Kanduhulhudhoo, where had had been campaigning earlier in the day.

He claimed that his attacker had been waiting around ahead of his arrival, before running up and punching him in the face and quickly escaping afterwards. Dr Luthfy said he suspected the attack had been planned beforehand, though he had not been made of any developments if the attacker had been found by authorities.

“The incident as I understand it has been caught on camera and shown I think on the Youtube website. Police should have hopefully seen this,” he said, adding that an official complaint about the incident had been sent to authorities.

“It’s a serious incident, the leader of our party has been calling against violence right now. Even after it happened our supporters were very calm. I know police went after the suspect, but they might not been able to get to him as he ran off.”

Dr Luthfy claimed that a number of similar incidents had been recorded by the country’s politician and could increase further with an intensified schedule of campaigning by both the MDP and government-aligned parties ahead of presidential elections expected next year.

Despite the growth in political tensions in the country during the build up and aftermath of February’s controversial transfer of power, Dr Luthfy claimed that fears of a potential increase in violence against MPs was unlikely just the country’s electorate venting their frustration.

“I think these things are very much orchestrated and organised,” the former education minister said. “We cannot go on like this, I was just walking in the street and get attacked.”

Dr Luthy pointed to an incident last week where a makeshift blockade was set up off the shore off the island Gemanafushi in Gaafu Alif atoll in order to block the arrival of a MDP vessel as a sign of increased tension and intolerance of rival political campaigning in the nation. One of the vessels was carrying former president Nasheed as he was travelling as part of a campaign tour of some of the country’s atolls.

“I think police should be present to minimise the chance of such incidents. There are a lot of tensions right now and if there is a lack of police presence, things can go wrong,” he said.

In the past, Dr Luthfy said that some parliamentarians have had to ask police for protection, reflecting an environment where MPs and senior politicians had been more free, or “complacent” in regards to their safety whilst being out in public.

“I think now that police should take the responsibility and try to be present during these campaigns just in case,” he said. “ Yes, these incidents [of attacks] are rare, but to try and minimise these incidents in future, I think a police presence would be a good thing.”

Both Commissioner Riyaz and Police spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef were not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.

Despite the former education chief’s claims, former President Mohamed Nasheed requested Thursday (October 4) in writing that his Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) security detail – provided under the Former President’s Act – not accompany him on a campaign tour. The MNDF later released a statement saying that it could not take any responsibility for harm that might befall the former president whilst not under its protection.

Nasheed’s decision was announced the same day Parliament’s ’241′ Security Services Committee summoned police chief Riyaz for an update into the investigation of MP Dr Afrasheem’s murder.

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party MP (DRP) Mp Ali Azim, a member of the security committee, told ahead of the meeting that the committee had hoped to try and establish whether there was evidence to suggest the attack was politically or religiously motivated.

However, both Azim and MDP Chairman ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik could not detail any outcomes of the meeting when contacted by Minivan News.

Aside from the ongoing murder investigation, media regulator the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) was also being summoned before the committee over concerns about the media’s role in spreading “hatred” about MPs in the country.

While accepting that the constitution called for the allowance of freedom of speech within the media, Azim claimed that there were limits, alleging that the national press were not being held sufficiently accountable for their work.

“The media has been accusing MPs of wasting taxpayers’ money; of suggesting not enough work is being done and saying that no laws are being passed,” he said. “I don’t think these accusations should be there. A few TV, radio and online media services has been accusing MPs of these things.”