President vows to file criminal charges over Afrasheem murder allegations

President Abdulla Yameen has vowed to file criminal charges against an opposition leader who had implicated the president in the 2012 murder of MP Afrasheem Ali.

Several defectors from the ruling coalition, including Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, have said that the president and the tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb know the truth behind the brutal murder.

“I am being accused falsely. This government will penalise them. I want to file charges against those who are making these accusations. Not that of defamation, but criminal charges. I will file charges against Sheikh Imran,” President Yameen said at a ceremony to open a domestic airport at Raa Atoll Ifuru.

Afrasheem, an MP for the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) representing Ungoofaaru constituency in Raa Atoll and also a moderate religious scholar, was stabbed to death outside his home on the night of October 1, 2012.

Police had said the killing was politically motivated.

President Yameen said the government will build an Islamic Centre on Ungoofaaru in Afrasheem’s memory.

Hussain Humam, the chief suspect in the murder and the only person convicted of the crime so far, has alleged the president and the tourism minister’s involvement in the killing.

At the first hearing of his appeal at the High Court in April, Human, who was sentenced to death in January 2014, said the pair “will know best” the details of the crime.

Sheikh Imran, at a mass anti-government protest on May 1 said: “Humam said the truth. President Yameen and Adeeb know best those who murdered Afrasheem.”

The home minister, Umar Naseer, was the first to link Afrasheem’s murder with President Yameen.

Speaking at a public rally after he lost the PPM’s 2013 presidential primaries, Naseer accused Yameen of having illicit connections with gangs, the drug trade and said he had witnessed a visit to Yameen at the PPM’s office by a suspect who was arrested and questioned by the police over the MP’s murder.

He retracted the allegations when he joined the cabinet.

The Maldives decriminalised defamation in 2009. The parliament then set the maximum penalty for civil lawsuits against slander at MVR5,000 (US$325).

The Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin last week said his office is looking into what sort of criminal charges could be filed over the allegations against the president and the tourism minister.

Several politicians, including ex-PPM MP Ahmed Mahloof and ex-police chief Abdulla Riyaz, revived claims of links between Afrasheem’s murderers and President Yameen after joining a campaign against government authoritarianism.

The police in early May questioned Abdulla Riyaz over comments he had made over Afrasheem’s murder on opposition-aligned Raajje TV. The now-opposition MP had said he will reveal information of the murder “when the time comes.”

The president’s half-brother, former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, sued a newspaper editor in 2011 for re-publishing a New York Times article on misuse of state funds revealed in a 2008 audit report.

He lost the case, but successfully sued the late historian Ahmed Shafeeq over claims that 111 people had been killed in police custody during Gayoom’s 30-year reign.

Imprisoned ex-president Mohamed Nasheed has recently said he will sue four judges of the Criminal Court over claims made regarding his terrorism trial, in which he was sentenced to 13 years in jail.


MP Mahloof held for 15 days after rejecting second protest ban

Independent MP Ahmed Mahloof has been taken into police custody for 15 days after refusing to accept a conditional release from detention under which he would have been barred from protests.

Mahloof scuffled with police outside the court after the period of detention was handed down Friday evening. Police said he tried to flee while being escorted into a vehicle. He was immediately seized by officers, but said he had just been trying to speak to his wife.

Mahloof’s wife Nazra Naseem was also involved in an altercation with officers and later said they had twisted her arm, pinched her stomach and torn buttons from her top.

Mahloof is being held at the Dhoonidhoo detention centre, his lawyer said.

Formerly a member of the ruling party, Mahloof was initially arrested on 25 March at an opposition protest over the jailing of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed, and was detained under house arrest for five days.

He was handed additional house arrest for refusing a previous protest ban, then was taken to the criminal court last night for a third remand hearing, as the court order to detain him was about to expire.

The criminal court ordered that Mahloof be detained again because he refused for a second time to accept the court’s condition to stay away from gatherings of four or more people for 30 days.

“Mahloof said he would not accept the court’s terms, so he was remanded for an extra 15 days in police detention,” said Abdulla Haseen, the MP’s lawyer.

The criminal court has recently released a series of protesters on condition they stay away from demonstrations for a set period of time, but this tactic has met with criticism from legal experts and the prosecutor general.

“Releasing a person suspected of a crime with conditions other than ensuring the person’s return to the court maybe unconstitutional,” the prosecutor general wrote in a letter to the chief judge of the criminal court, obtained by Minivan News last week.

Meanwhile, the constitution says people can only be held in pre-trial detention under certain circumstances: if further interrogation is needed, if they are a danger to society, if they may influence witnesses or if they might flee.


Police said Mahloof had tried to run away from officers as he was being escorted into a police vehicle after Friday’s remand hearing, a claim he denies.

“Mahloof said he wanted to talk to the reporters outside because police manhandled his wife,” said his lawyer.

Eyewitness Sabra Noordeen said the MP did not try to flee but “ran to his wife” because she was shouting.

“Nazra [Mahloof’s wife] was near the police vehicle and he ran towards her. He wasn’t trying to flee though,” she said.

Speaking to Raajje TV last night, Nazra said she was molested by police as she tried to meet her husband outside the court.

“One policeman pinched my stomach and touched parts of my body that he should not have. He also tore off the buttons of the top I was wearing,” she said.

“My arm and finger were twisted so badly that I thought they were going to break it. I am sure if I hadn’t screamed he [the police officer] would have broken my fingers.”

Nazra has submitted a complaint to the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives today.

Meanwhile the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has condemned “police brutality towards Mahloof and his family”.

“Mahloof has been detained illegally for 25 days without charge. The MDP is concerned about the criminal court’s harassment of MP Mahloof and we condemn it,” the statement read.

“MDP sees the harassment towards MP Mahloof and his family as a warning to all Maldivian citizens by the government.”

Mahloof, a close associate of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, was expelled from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) last month after he publicly criticised President Abdulla Yameen and the government.

He is now part of the opposition Alliance against Brutality, an anti-government coalition.


MP Mahloof presents David Beckham with Maldives football shirt

Galolhu South MP Ahmed Mahloof has presented former footballer David Beckham with Maldivian national football shirt.

The Progressive Party of Maldives MP tweeted a picture of his meeting with the former Manchester United, Real Madrid, AC Milan, and LA Galaxy star.

Beckham has been holidaying in the Maldives with his family over the New Year period.


Cabinet advises president to establish regulations for death penalty

The cabinet has today advised President Abdulla Yameen that there is no legal obstruction to implementing death sentences, asking him to establish regulations determining the appropriate procedure.

The cabinet noted murder to be a serious crime on a national level, calling upon the president to pursue implementation of the death sentence using lethal injection.

Meanwhile, Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Mahloof has today announced his decision not to seek a public referendum on capital punishment, giving his apologies to the public.

The decision followed the Fiqh Academy’s statement announcing that a public referendum on the death sentence was unlawful as the punishment was determined in Islamic Sharia.

Mahloof told the press today that he started the work with good intentions, but as religious scholars had said the referendum was unlawful, he no longer wanted to go ahead with it.

Mahloof held a press conference today at the PPM’s offices, telling media that he had never opposed the penalty, but rather had wanted – via the public referendum – to show how much the people were in need of it.

Mahloof said that the cabinet has the authority to enact the death sentence, and called upon it to realise that the implementation of capital punishment has to be started as soon as possible.

On February 4, Mahloof proposed conducting the referendum, suggesting that a poll could be held simultaneously with the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 22.

On the same day Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed wrote on his twitter page that a public vote was not allowed on something already determined under Islamic Sharia.

Mahloof’s actions followed Home Minister Umar Naseer’s order to the Maldives Correctional Service last month to begin preparations for implementation of death sentences by lethal injection.

Amnesty International subsequenty called on the government to halt any plans to end the current moratorium on the death penalty, describing such a move as “a retrograde step and a serious setback to human rights in the country.”

President Yameen – on a state visit to Sri Lanka at the time of Naseer’s announcement – meanwhile told the press that the home minister’s order was not discussed in cabinet, and promised “broad discussions” on the issue.

In December 2012, the then-Attorney General Azima Shukoor has drafted a bill outlining how the death sentence should be executed in the Maldives, with lethal injection being identified as the state’s preferred method of capital punishment.

The last person to be judicially executed in the Maldives was Hakim Didi, who was executed by firing squad in 1953 after being found guilty of conspiracy to murder using black magic.


JP and PPM coalitions unite in condemnation of the Elections Commission

“The Supreme Court’s verdict very clearly says the elections commission planned and systematically attempted to commit electoral fraud,” said Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed last night.

Rasheed spoke during a joint press conference held by the three government-aligned parties still contesting in the presidential election.

Representatives of the Jumhooree Party (JP), the Adhaalath Party (AP), the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), and the Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) also took turns to denounce the Elections Commission (EC).

“If the lawful punishment for these people is a jail sentence, then we will not hesitate to do that. There is no other way but resignation for them,” said JP Deputy Leader Ilham Ahmed.

“I call on the police, the attorney general and the prosecutor general to investigate [EC Chair] Fuwad Thowfeek and his allies and file the case at court through the prosecutor general,” he continued.

The press conference came shortly before the EC revealed the schedule to be adopted for what will be the third attempt at completing the presidential election.

September’s poll – won by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate Mohamed Nasheed- was later annulled by the Supreme Court which ruled that the preparations of the EC had “broadly facilitated fraud, undue influence and corruption”.

The second attempt to hold the election on October 19 failed after police withdrew their logistical support, informing EC staff that they would be prevented from moving any election-related documents out of the commission’s premises.

The decision to delay the election brought consternation from the international community as well as renewed messages of support for the EC, which has received praise from over 1000 local and international observers for its conduct in the first round.

After consulting with the government and political parties, the EC yesterday announced the decision to hold the first round on November 9, and the run-off – if needed – on November 16.

“We, the two coalitions, remain steadfast”

The police’s decision to obstruct polls – decried by both the Police Integrity Commission and the Human Rights Commission of Maldives – came after the PPM/MDA and JP/AP/DQP candidates had refused to sign the voter registry as mandated in the court’s ruling.

The allied parties yesterday called for the EC to abide by the Supreme Court’s guidelines when holding the re-vote.

“There is only one choice. If some of the points in the guidelines are difficult for them, then there is no other way but to seek to change those points,” Ilham said.

Adhaalath President Sheikh Imran Abdulla called for the EC to resign if it could not act according to the court’s guidelines.

“We, the two coalitions, remain steadfast. God willing, there will be no election in the Maldives at this time unless it is an election that follows the SC guidelines.”

During its own press conference last night, the EC announced it would continue to follow the Supreme Court’s guidelines, but would seek to change them in the future.

“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,” said EC Chair Thowfeek.

Both MDA Deputy Leader Ahmed Amir and PPM MP Ahmed Mahloof expressed doubt that a free and fair election can be held as long as the EC members stay in place.

“Maldivian citizens know there is nothing we will not do for this nation. That we are not divided. This press conference shows we are together. God willing, we will remain like this,” Riyaz said yesterday.

Yesterday’s show of unity comes after relations between the parties and their candidates had appeared at a low ebb.

Following the October 8 decision to re-hold the first round of polling, initial suggestions that the parties might back a single candidate failed to result in consensus.

The PPM subsequently accused Gasim of being overly-influenced by MDP sympathisers within his party, whilst Gasim himself suggested that Yameen’s record during the autocratic rule of his half-brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom meant that he would never win the popular support of the people.


Former President Gayoom warns against divisions within PPM

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has called for supporters of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) to unite behind presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen, claiming there was no room for division among its members.

Gayoom’s comments were published in local media yesterday (April 8 ) after he officially presented the PPM presidential ticket to his half-brother Yameen.

Yameen last month secured his spot in presidential elections scheduled for September this year, winning  the PPM primary with 63 percent of the vote in a two-way contest against the party’s Deputy Leader Umar Naseer.

Following the primary, Naseer alleged that the PPM primary had been rigged in favour of Yameen. Naseer’s comments, as well as a subsequent refusal to retract them, have since resulted in the PPM’s disciplinary committee accepting a case against him.

“United and resolute”

However, speaking yesterday at a function to unveil Yameen as the PPM’s presidential candidate, former President Gayoom called for any rifts in the party to cease.

“We have to stand united and resolute on that belief. Now is the time for all of us to express one thought. Speak in one voice. Stand firm on one objective. There is no room for division among us after the presidential ticket has been presented,” Gayoom was quoted as saying in local newspaper Haveeru.

“In this party there should not be people who only support Maumoon or Yameen or anyone else. Everyone must be PPM members. Members must be sincere to this party,” Gayoom said.

After losing the PPM Primary, Umar Naseer held a rally and declared that despite admitting defeat, the party’s internal election had involved discrepancies including the influencing of voters, vote buying and intimidation of his supporters.

He also alleged that many of his supporters were denied the right to vote, claiming that their names had not been on the lists.

“Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s children were with Yameen, the largest gangsters in the country were with Yameen, all the drug cartels in the country were with Yameen, the most corrupted people were with Yameen, the whole elections committee was with Yameen and a large chunk of PPM’s parliament members gathered around Yameen.

“We came out knowing that the referee, the linesman and even the match commissioner along with his 11 players were playing on his side. Our team had the poor and the middle class players,” Naseer said at the rally.

“We even witnessed that those who are heavily involved in drug trafficking were present at the polling station wearing Yameen’s campaign caps,” he said. “Not only did they exert undue influence, they travelled to islands with stashes of black money and attempted to turn the votes. In fact they even did turn some votes.”

In September 2010, Umar Naseer was the Deputy Leader of Dhivehi Rayyiithunge Party (DRP), the DRP Council in a meeting decided to file a case against Umar at the Disciplinary Committee for forging a press release and for causing division in the party.

Later in December 2010, Umar Naseer was dismissed from the party – an incident that eventually led to a splintering of the DRP into a new party under Gayoom, the PPM.

PPM MPs Ahmed Mahloof and Ilham Ahmed were not responding to calls at time of press.


“I will lead Maldives out of a failing democracy, we don’t want a phobiocracy”: PPM presidential candidate

The newly elected presidential candidate of Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Abdulla Yameen on Tuesday night delivered his first address to supporters following the conclusion of the primaries.

“Our motto is ‘nation first’”, Yameen stated. “Any other parties who genuinely want to join us can come knock on our door anytime. You are welcome at any time, whether it be day or late at night.”

“I am not trying to be elected President for want of a castle. I don’t want such a palace. It is also not with the intention of challenging competitors. This is why I’m telling my opponent in the party itself, too, to stop competing with me. I do not intend to compete with anyone. I am here to fight the battle of solving the many issues our country is facing now,” Yameen said.

“I want to repair the damaged social fabric of this country. I want to bring Maldives out of this failing democracy, save it from the impeding dictatorship and establish a modern democracy as facilitated by the systems set in place by our Constitution. We do not want a phobiocracy. We want development and modernisation.”

While the losing candidate who contested against Yameen, Umar Naseer, held his own rally on Monday night, PPM announced Tuesday’s rally to be “the first gathering held by the party after the primaries”.

The statement was made after Naseer aired serious allegations against Yameen during Monday night’s rally, accusing him of a variety of offences including forming alliances with drug cartels, vote buying and various other forms of corruption.

Meanwhile, the party’s council released a ruling after an emergency meeting held Tuesday afternoon, ordering Umar Naseer to offer a public apology for the comments he had made and for holding a gathering ‘against the party’s regulations’ before the commencement of Wednesday night’s official rally.

The council further ruled that should Naseer fail to put forward an apology within the assigned duration, the council would take further disciplinary action against him.

Umar Naseer was not responding to calls at the time of press. Local media has meanwhile reported that he refused to comment on the matter.

Playing in defence

“Many attacks have come at me from inside and out. I do not wish to defend myself, but I will make some comments here for your sake, as you should know the character of the person to whom you have pledged support,” Yameen told the crowds.

“I swear upon Allah that none of the things I have been alleged of doing can be proven against me. I am here with much more stability than that. If I had such actions on my conscience, I would not have stepped out for public service.”

“Just so as to offer consolation for you all, I am saying this. I am not a rich man. I do not own apartments in other countries. I do not control gangs. I am not involved in the illegal drug trade. I do not have even a small connection with the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali,” Yameen said.

“I would like to add that for the sake of our party, let us stop making allegations like this. We are far more responsible and well-established to be making comments of this nature.”

“Most democratic primaries ever held”: Gayoom

PPM Party Leader former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom addressed the hundreds of party supporters at the rally, stating that the recently concluded party primaries were “the most responsible, free and fair, transparent primaries ever held by a political party in the country to date.”

“Both candidates who competed in the primaries showed high competitiveness in the spirit of democracy,” Gayoom stated.

“These historic, free and extremely fair primaries were won by Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom. I congratulate him in your name and mine,” Gayoom continued.

“At the same time, Umar Naseer, who could not win the primaries, also contacted me via phone after the results were announced. He said to me that he accepted the results, and extended congratulations to Abdulla Yameen. He further said he believed the primaries had proceeded in a very fair manner. Naseer also said that the campaign office he had built was from that moment on gifted to PPM, and hence I would like to thank him for the democratic example he has displayed with these actions,” he stated.

Both Gayoom and Yameen have claimed that the party has 31,000 “genuine” members now, and called on the members to each find two new members by the end of May.

“This is not difficult. If we each get two more members, we will soon have 93,000 members and with a little more effort we can easily achieve 100,000,” Gayoom said.

“Our party has the highest number of genuine members now. By that I mean that all 31,000 of our members have submitted complete details of themselves to authorities, including even their fingerprints. The other parties have not done so,” Gayoom alleged.

Official figures on the Elections Commission website show that PPM currently has 22,383 members, with an additional 1671 forms awaiting clearance.

“Our loyalties should be to the party, not to Maumoon”: Gayoom

“Our party always acts in accordance with law and regulations, and it must continue to do so,” Gayoom said. “All party members must follow the party’s regulations. No one is above these regulations. We are obliged to act in accordance with the regulations, or else people will start acting as they please, which would lead us astray from our objectives.”

Gayoom referred to the breaking up of his previous party Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) into factions, stating that he had made a stand for Umar Naseer when DRP had tried to dismiss him from the party in breach of their regulations.

“I stood up for his rights, but then DRP started acting towards me in a very demeaning manner. They went on TV and said they did not need me, my advice or opinions. And so, I had to leave that party. This is an experience I have had related to the importance of following regulations.”

“Article 69 of our regulation states clearly that all PPM members must pledge allegiance to the presidential candidate. We cannot say that we will support him if he acts in any particular way. That is simply not an option,” Gayoom said.

“Our loyalties should not lie with an individual. It should not be pledged to a certain Maumoon, or to anyone besides Maumoon. It should be towards the party itself, with our policies and principles,” he stated.

Furthermore, Yameen called out to Naseer to work with him to lead the party to further successes.

“We were able to win 17 of 20 recent by-elections. This is because of the strength of having worked together, which is why I call out to Umar Naseer to come work with us,” Yameen said.

“The primaries were a test of character of the whole party and its individual members,” Yameen said. “We must not let any weakness seep into the party. Our brother Naseer, who was unfortunate this time and lost the primaries, must also display his test of character now. Our party is larger than any of us individuals,” he continued.

“My biggest strength is that our fountain of wealth, fountain of experience, party leader Gayoom, is here to guide me and our party and lead us. This is my ultimate happiness,” Yameen stated.

Autism Awareness Day

With April 2 declared Autism Awareness Day and marked widely throughout the Maldives, many speakers at the rally pledged support to families with autistic patients.

“Today is the internationally marked day for families with autistic kids to raise awareness in countries of the challenges that they face. Thus, in commemoration of this day, I really wish to extend my heartfelt sympathies, love and support to such children, and so I have now done that,” Gayoom stated.

Presidential candidate Yameen said in his speech, “This is the Autistic Day, isn’t it? If one is not autistic, whichever way one looks, one would doubtless see the development that has been brought to this country in the 30 years.”

Yamin’s comments, though applauded at the  rally, were criticised in social media as being offensive and insensitive.

Responding to criticism and demands for an apology, PPM Spokesperson Ahmed Mahloof initially tweeted “Yameen’s comments on autism are being twisted by MDP (Maldivian Democratic Party) members after watching our rally and not being able to digest it.”

He then tweeted an apology on behalf of Yameen, stating “Yameen apologises if there was any misinterpretation of his comments with regard to autism.”

Yameen has since released an official statement on Wednesday, echoing Mahloof’s allegations of political opponents distorting his words and apologising if there was room for misinterpretation.

He also pledged to advocate for the rights of persons with special rights, and offered assurance that such persons will be given equal opportunities in the instance that PPM wins the September 7 elections.


PPM leaves “national movement”

The government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has decided to part ways with the self-titled “National Movement” led by the religious conservative Adhaalath Party and senior government officials.

Speaking at today’s sitting of parliament, PPM MP Ahmed Mahloof revealed that the party’s council decided last night (December 24) to leave the movement out of concern that it was “moving in another direction”.

“I question today whether this campaign under the name of national movement is sincere or not,” Mahloof said. “I’m saying this because during the GMR issue, we said repeatedly that after that we should raise the issue of Nexbis [border control project]. But after that we saw them raise the issue of the People’s Majlis.”

Mahloof added that a speaker at a national movement rally on Sunday night “used obscene language” to attack PPM parliamentary group leader MP Abdulla Yameen.

The speaker in question accused MP Yameen of “threatening” the Adhaalath Party, during a rally held Sunday (December 23) to celebrate the first anniversary of the December 23 “mega-protest.”

Local media reported that the remarks led to heated exchanges between the speaker and PPM supporters, a number of whom left the area in protest.

In his speech following the incident, Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, a senior leader of the Adhaalath Party, spoke in defence of MP Yameen and urged speakers to respect political leaders.

Meanwhile, in an appearance on private broadcaster DhiTV last week, Yameen suggested that intemperate rhetoric from senior government officials at rallies organised by the movement was responsible for strained ties with India.

Yameen further contended that the campaign by the national movement was not the reason behind the government’s decision to terminate the concession agreement with the GMR-led consortium.

The decision was backed by the political parties in the ruling coalition, Yameen noted, and questioned the wisdom and necessity of street protests led by senior government officials.

The “national movement” was born out of the unofficial December 23 coalition of eight political parties and an alliance of NGOs that rallied to “defend Islam” in late 2011 from the allegedly liberal policies and “securalisation agenda” of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Following the transfer of presidential power on February 7, the “civil alliance” led a campaign dubbed “Maldivians’ Airport to Maldivians” calling on the government to terminate the concession agreement with Indian infrastructure giant GMR to manage and modernise Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

However, the largest party in the ruling coalition, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), announced that it would not participate in the street protests. Moreover, senior leaders of other pro-government parties were noticeably absent from the anti-GMR protests and activities at the time.

Following the termination of the concession agreement, the national movement turned its attention to “reforming” the parliament and has organised poorly-attended rallies at the artificial beach in recent days.

At a rally last week, State Minister for Finance Abbas Adil Riza threatened to dissolve parliament. Riza criticised Speaker Abdulla Shahid for tabling a no-confidence motion in defiance of a Supreme Court injunction ordering parliament to halt secret voting pending a ruling on its constitutionality.

Meanwhile, speaking at a press conference today to announce PPM’s decision to leave the movement, MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla reportedly warned that the “national movement” could cause divisions in the ruling coalition and weaken the government.

The PPM interim deputy leader revealed that the decision was made after the party’s concerns were not addressed following discussions with the movement’s leaders.

PPM has appealed to the party’s members not to participate in the movement’s rallies and events.


Parliament orders Elections Commission to drop fingerprint verification for party membership forms

Parliament’s Independent Institutions Committee has requested the Elections Commission (EC) cease requiring fingerprints on applications for political party membership.

According to local media, the parliamentary committee today decided that no law or regulation existed that required the EC to request fingerprints to verify the authenticity of new party members.

The committee members questioned the efficiency of fingerprinting technology, arguing that no mechanism or database presently existed in the Maldives that could store the required amounts of information.

However, local NGO the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) told Minivan News that while it was unsure of the efficiency of the previous fingerprint system, fraudulent membership registration for Maldivian political parties remained a significant problem that needed to be addressed.

“The problem that exists right now is that there is a lot of fraudulent membership within political parties. Often, people are not aware they have been signed up,” MDN stated. “It is imperative that it is down to an individual to decide which party they want to belong to and no one else.”

MDN Executive Director Humaida Abdul Gafoor said it was vital that some form of verification mechanism was in place to ensure party memberships were genuine, adding that a bigger issue facing the committee should be finding an alternatives to the fingerprint technology, rather than simply halting it.

“We don’t know if the EC’s adoption of fingerprinting was a move in the right direction in first place,” she added.

Verification systems

Explaining the decision to discontinue the EC’s request for fingerprints, Deputy Chairman of the Independent Institutions Committee, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Sameer, said that the Maldives did not presently have a mechanism or system to collect and store such information.

“In regards to issues with the fingerprinting system, the EC, Department of National Registration and the Maldives Police Service all agreed they didn’t have enough records or verification systems available,” he told Minivan News.

The Department of National Registration, which had also been summoned before the committee, was reported to have confirmed that no fingerprint database presently existed in the Maldives.

Elections Commission President Fuad Thaufeeq was not responding to calls at time of press.

System critics

One critic of the EC’s fingerprint system is MP Ahmed Mahloof of the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

Back in September, Mahloof alleged via local media that close to 8000 membership forms from his party have been rejected by the Elections Commission (EC) – mainly due to the quality of fingerprints appearing on the forms.

The MP claimed that the fingerprint issue had arisen because the EC did not have sufficiently modern machinery to look at the fingerprints, relying instead on the perception of its staff – drastically limiting memberships numbers for the party.

A spokesperson for the EC told Minivan News at the time that similar complaints had been received from other political parties including the Jumhoree Party (JP), Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP), and the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“Party membership forms go through a 50 step verification process. We are doing this to minimise chances of fraud. After we introduced this procedure, we are no longer receiving any complaints from individuals who have been placed in parties without their knowledge,” the spokesperson said.

The EC accepted that did not have machinery to verify fingerprints, but claimed that it had been able to forward complaints to the Maldives Police Service, which was able to use its resources to look into the matter.