Polls “free and fair,” Elections Commission well-prepared: HRCM

The presidential election on September 7 was “free and fair” and conducted “impartially” in a peaceful environment while the Elections Commission (EC) was logistically well-prepared, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has concluded in its report on the first round of the polls.

In its report (Dhivehi) made public on Thursday (September 19) following election observation by officials in 11 population hubs as well as prisons, the HRCM recommended that EC officials in charge of ballot boxes should be better acquainted with election regulations as some were “hesitant to take procedural measures.”

“Although problems with the voters registry in boxes observed by the commission were few, existing issues should be resolved to confirm the validity of the voters registry,” the HRCM advised.

“Ballot papers were received in full at all [polling] stations observed by the commission. And, except for two polling stations, the voting booth was placed in a manner that would assure the secrecy of the vote.”

The secrecy of the vote could have been compromised in one polling station due to inadequate space and placement of voting booths while there was insufficient light in a second polling station, the report noted.

Officials from the HRCM observed voting in 25 ballot boxes across the country, including Haa Alif Kelaa, Haa Dhaal Kulhudhufushi, Baa Thulhaadhoo, Male’, Kaafu Maafushi Jail, Dhoonidhoo detention centre, Thaa Thimarafushi, Laamu Gan, Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo, Fuvahmulah and Addu City.

The HRCM observers found that campaigning and negative campaigning by political party supporters took place on voting day in violation of election laws.

However, the HRCM concluded that there was a peaceful environment for voting as “no violence, unrest or attempts to influence voting” was observed.

While seating arrangements were made for voters waiting in long queues, “some areas were not sheltered from the sun and rain.”

The HRCM report noted that those suffering from illnesses, the elderly, physically disabled persons, pregnant mothers, police officers on election security-related duty, election officials as well as observers and monitors were given precedence and allowed to vote without waiting in line.

The report also noted that police officers active near polling stations followed instructions from the official in charge of the station.

“It was noted that some observers, representatives, and monitors acted in violation of their ethical standards,” the HRCM found.

Moreover, arrangements were not made to provide easy access to polling stations for persons with special needs, the report noted, while the arrangements that were made for the physically disabled were not sufficient to assure their right to vote.

The HRCM also advised maintaining a consistent measure in all polling stations to determine if a person qualified for assisted voting to ensure that “the person who assists is not able to take unfair advantage or influence the vote”.

While vote counting was “conducted well” by election officials, the HRCM noted that in some instances the declaring of ballots as invalid was “questionable.”

At the conclusion of vote counting, the result sheet was announced in the presence of observers and a copy was made public, the report noted.

Lastly, the commission observed that the public was not allowed access to observe polling stations, which it said would have enhanced the transparency of the process.

A total of 35 complaints regarding the election was submitted to the commission, the report revealed, including 13 cases of people unable to vote and complaints concerning police officers active near polling stations, illegal campaigning, registration issues, and the conduct of election officials and observers.

Complaints regarding the voters registry included a person who was not a resident of a home included in the registry under that address and two persons re-registered without their knowledge.

In addition, one person submitted a complaint alleging that his or her name was not in the registry at all.

“Of the 35 complaints submitted to the commission, we note that 13 persons were deprived of their right to vote,” the report stated.

The HRCM report noted that more than 4,000 election officials were involved in conducting the polls while 2,234 observers from political parties, private organisations and individuals as well as 1,642 monitors were registered to observe the voting process.

In addition, 1,344 representatives of presidential candidates and 133 foreign observers were active on voting day.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the September 7 election, the Jumhooree Party (JP) – whose candidate Gasim Ibrahim narrowly missed out on the second round run-off with 24.07 percent of the vote – alleged vote rigging by the EC and sought annulment of the results by the Supreme Court.

However, both domestic and international observers have praised the EC for its conduct of the polls, with Transparency Maldives (TM) last week calling on political parties not to undermine the credibility of the results without evidence.

TM deployed the single largest team of election observers with 400 monitors across the country, which found that “only 0.2% people were turned away because their names were not on the registry” and that there no observed incidents “of double voting, impersonation, underage voting or of indelible ink washing off.”

“In view of the cases submitted and allegations made at the High Court and Supreme Court of the Maldives regarding systematic vote rigging, Transparency Maldives notes that it did not find any evidence that support allegations of systematic election day fraud during the nationwide observation,” TM stated.