EC members Manik, Farooq summoned for questioning by police

Elections Commission (EC) members Ali Mohamed Manik and Mohamed Farooq were summoned for questioning by police last night.

Farooq told the press upon emerging from the police headquarters that he was questioned about the distribution of voters on the Malé municipality special register to various constituencies in the capital.

Farooq said he answered all the questions put to him by police interrogators, declining to reveal further details.

The police summons for the pair followed questioning of dismissed EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek on Sunday night.

Thowfeek was questioned over a leaked phone conversation between himself and former President Mohamed Nasheed, during which the pair discussed the distribution of citizens on the municipal register to constituencies in Malé ahead of the parliamentary elections due to take place on March 22.

The former EC chair exercised his constitutional right to remain silent, a police media official confirmed to Minivan News yesterday (March 17).

Following the release of the phone call recording on social media, Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports Abdulla Rifau ‘Bochey’ – a candidate of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) for the Maafanu South constituency in the capital – filed a case with the police alleging that Thowfeek had abused his powers as the commission’s chair.

Thowfeek, however, told local media that he had offered clarifications on the municipal registry issue to any politician who had contacted him over the phone.

The commission held a number of meetings with representatives from political parties to discuss the distribution of voters on the municipal registry, he explained.

Thowfeek also said that he shared his concerns regarding the Supreme Court’s contempt of court charges against EC members with various politicians.

“I also shared this concern with President Abdulla Yameen through a text message. In that same manner, I shared my concerns with Nasheed, too,” he said.

Municipal register

In December, the EC compiled a report on electoral constituencies for the 2014 parliamentary elections, increasing voting districts from 77 to 85 in accordance with the Electoral Constituencies Act.

Citizens on the municipal register – residents without a permanent address in Malé – were distributed among constituencies in the capital following consultation with MPs representing the 11 constituencies in Malé.

In the approximately three-minute long recording that surfaced on social media, Nasheed and Thowfeek are heard discussing the redistribution of voters.

“Some of our members went to discuss the matter of the municipal register border, didn’t they? It was agreed then that Maafannu will be kept as in the final report, yes? In short, it was agreed that some changes will be brought to Henveiru and the remaining people on the register will be distributed to the four constituencies of Maafannu, yes?” Nasheed is heard asking.

Thowfeek replies, “Yes, yes, the current borders are something that everyone has agreed on.”

Nasheed then inquires, “have any additional changes been brought to the list later on the request of Maafannu [West] constituency MP Abdulla Abdul Raheem?”

In response, Thowfeek states that no such changes had been made and that Abdul Raheem had visited the commission to discuss the issue.

MP Abdul Raheem was suspended from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in January after voting to approve President Abdulla Yameen’s cabinet against the party’s three-line whip.

He did not contest in the party’s parliamentary primaries or seek re-election.

Following the leak of the phone conversation, MP Abdulla Abdul Raheem explained on Twitter that the EC “invited all members representing Malé constituencies to meet with them” on December 26 to discuss the final report on parliamentary constituencies.

“I highlighted the issue of dhafthar [municipal register] being allocated to only 1 constituency instead of distributing it equally between 4 constituencies,” he tweeted.

MPs ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, Mohamed Rasheed, and Ibrahim from the MDP along with PPM MPs Ahmed Nihan and Ahmed Mahloof attended the meeting, Abdul Raheem revealed.

The final report was amended “after our contribution,” he added.


Second round of voting in council elections scheduled for February 15

A second round of voting in the local council elections will take place in four islands on February 15, the Elections Commission (EC) has announced.

Speaking at a press conference held yesterday to announce official results of the January 18 polls, EC President Fuwad Thowfeek said a second round was needed in four island council races where candidates in fifth place were tied with the same number of votes.

Run-of elections will take place in Haa Alif Muraidhoo, Baa Fehendhoo, Raa Maakurath and Gaaf Alif Kodey.

Thowfeek also revealed that the EC has annulled the results of the Noonu Miladhoo island council election after it emerged that disappearing ink might have been used.

Following an investigation by the National Complaints Bureau, the EC decided that the issue could have affected the outcome of the vote, Thowfeek said.

In addition to Miladhoo, voting for the Gaaf Alif Villigili constituency atoll council seats has also been scheduled for February 15.

The Villigili poll was delayed by the EC to afford a candidate adequate time to campaign after his disqualification by the commission was overturned by the Supreme Court.

The candidate in question had however withdrawn his candidacy following the EC’s decision to delay the poll.

On the second round of voting, EC member Ali Mohamed Manik told the press that ballot boxes will be placed in the islands and Male’.

Manik added that the commission had not made a decision concerning voters in the constituencies registered to vote elsewhere in the country.

However, the EC cannot allow re-registration for the second round, Manik said.

Victory for MDP amidst low turnout

EC President Thowfeek also revealed that the turnout on January 18 was 64.5 percent, down from the 70 percent turnout in the first local council elections that took place in February 2011.

Of 240,220 eligible voters, 154,942 voters cast their ballots, Thowfeek noted.

While turnout in some islands exceeded 80 percent, participation in some constituencies of the capital was as low as 30 percent.

A total of 2,463 candidates contested in the January 18 polls for 1,100 seats – 951 island council seats, 132 atoll council seats, and 17 city council seats.

Thowfeek noted that 72 female councillors were elected in the second local council elections, which accounted for six percent of the winning candidates.

According to the official results, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) won the most number of seats.

The main opposition party fielded 901 candidates and won 458 seats, including eight out of 11 seats in the Male’ City Council and all six seats of the Addu City Council. The two cities together account for 40 percent of the voting population.

The MDP also performed well in other population hubs such as Kulhudhufushi in the north and Fuvahmulah in the south.

The ruling ‘Progressive Coalition’ – composed of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Jumhooree Party (JP) and the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) – fielded 934 candidates and won 456 seats.

The PPM took 277 seats, followed by the JP with 123 seats and the MDA with 56 seats.

Of the 543 independent candidates, 133 were elected. The Adhaalath Party meanwhile fielded 83 candidates and secured 45 seats.

The religious conservative party campaigned independently of the government coalition as it was not an official coalition partner with a formal agreement.

The Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party meanwhile fielded two candidates and won one council seat.


Voter lists put up at polling stations with ID card photos

Voter lists for today’s council elections have been placed at polling stations for the first time with national identity card photos, prompting complaints from women with face veils.

Speaking at an Elections Commission (EC) press conference this afternoon, EC President Fuwad Thowfeek said photos were included in the eligible voters registry placed outside each polling station as a safeguard to prevent fraud.

“Even though this is something new that we introduced, in most countries, photos of voters are included in the voters list,” Thowfeek said.

Photos of all eligible voters were provided by the Department of National Registration (DNR) from its identity card database with the exception of 1,170 photos, Thowfeek said.

The voters list used in previous elections only included name, address, ID card number and date of birth.

EC member Ali Mohamed Manik said the EC decided to make the lists with ID card photos in the interest of ensuring transparency.

“There are a lot of foreigners living in the country. As there could be a chance for foreigners to vote using ID cards, this was done to prevent that and facilitate the right to vote for Maldivians,” he said.

Manik said the commission has officially received two complaints so far from women in cases where the ID card photos were taken before they wore face veils.

The official in charge of the Elections Complaints Bureau noted that a number of women who wear the hijab were also phoning in complaints about their photos being made public.

“Concerning these complaints, we brought it to the attention of the commission’s members and informed [polling stations] to cover with a piece of paper the photos of people who insist on taking it down,” he said.

He added that voters had an “individual responsibility” to update photos at the DNR after wearing the hijab.

Local media outlet CNM has meanwhile reported that some religious scholars have objected to the photos of women with face veils made public by the EC.

NGO Salaf preacher Sheikh Adam Shameem told the news website that making the photos public was demeaning to the women in question and called to punish those responsible.

Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla also contended that the practice was contrary to Islamic principles and infringed on the rights of veiled women.

Among other complaints submitted to the EC included two cases where marked ballot papers were displayed, complaints regarding pens with fading ink and complaints over the conduct of election officials.


Jumhooree coalition accuses EC of costing it votes on election day

Jumhooree coalition Presidential Candidate Gasim Ibrahim’s spokesperson Ibrahim Khaleel has accused the Elections Commission (EC) of anti-campaigning against their candidate.

Khaleel is quoted in local media as stating that the EC has today infringed upon the electoral rights of candidates.

Khaleel stated that the EC, in a press conference held Saturday afternoon, had spoken about the JP refusing to sign the voters’ list which is to be used in a second round of elections which, if necessary, are to be held on Sunday.

He then alleged that this statement by the EC would lead Gasim to lose support.

EC President Fuwad Thowfeek cited words of JP’s Deputy Leader Ibrahim Didi, who, according to Thowfeek had told him the party “had no objections with proceeding with elections, but [we] refuse to sign the voter lists”, and also had stated he would send in a letter saying the same.

Khaleel, however, denied that this way the party’s stand and claimed instead that it was the deputy leader’s personal opinion.

EC Member Ali Mohamed Manik had been asked a similar question at today’s press conference by Gasim-owned VMedia, whether the commission’s intention was to anti-campaign by talking about the matter.

“We will neither campaign nor anti-campaign for anyone. We have no interest whatsoever in electing any particular candidate. I don’t believe that we have infringed any candidates’ rights by truthfully and factually answering media queries about who has so far signed or not signed the register.”

“We have a window of less than 24 hours between the two rounds of voting, and so we must speak of the matter. If this is then interpreted as anti-campaigning, then the only choice left would be to stop providing information to the media completely, and that probably is not an acceptable option.”