Defiant Attorney General Azima Shakoor voted out of office

A parliamentary no-confidence motion against Attorney General Azima Shakoor has passed with 41 votes today (October 29).

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) filed the motion, claiming Azima had demeaned the constitution, parliamentary powers and the integrity of the Attorney General’s post by advocating against the Elections Commission (EC) in September’s vote annulment case.

The party also accused her of attempting to benefit her political party in presidential elections, and advising government officials against attending parliamentary committees.

According to Majlis Speaker Abdulla Shahid, Azima did not attend today’s Majlis sitting and did not respond in speech or writing to any of the allegations made against her.

However, in an emotional statement addressed to the Speaker and shared with local media, Azima stressed that she had acted within the law and accused the MDP of pursuing a “personalized vendetta.”

“It is not the Majlis that I will be held accountable to on the day after tomorrow. It is to Allah. On that day, I will be accountable without any fear. All of you know I will not stray from the path of justice for worldly gains or for a job. You will know I will not make a deal,” she said.

Speaking in the AG’s defense, MPs of the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) stressed that Azima had not committed any unlawful acts, and as such the no confidence motion was unjust.

The PPM boycotted the vote, but PPM MP Ahmed Mahloof voted for the no-confidence motion. In addition to the MDP, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) supported the motion. Five MPs voted against.

No confidence

The MDP submitted the no confidence motion against Azima on September 25 with the signatures of 26 MPs.

In the motion, the MDP noted that as Attorney General, Azima had advocated against an independent state institution – the EC – that she was mandated to defend.

Following the first round of elections on September 7, third placed Jumhooree Party sought to annul the vote, alleging widespread electoral fraud. Azima intervened in the case, presented a police intelligence document and asked for an investigation.

A copy of the document was leaked on social media. It alleged 18,486 irregularities on the voter registry. The Supreme Court annulled the election on October 7 and ordered a re-vote.

In her intervention she “advocated against the Elections Commission, discredited the institution, prioritized political party interests, and worked against the constitutional principles, state and public interest,” said the MDP.

The party suggested that the AG had abused her position to influence elections and in doing so had obstructed the election of a new government.

It also accused Azima of infringing upon the parliamentary powers by advising government officials and the security forces not to attend a Majlis committee set up to investigate the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012.

“Taken together, these actions clearly demonstrate that the Attorney General has destroyed constitutional norms and democratic laws,” the motion read.

“The Attorney General has demeaned the Constitution and the integrity of the post of Attorney General and betrayed the Attorney General’s responsibilities and the Maldivian nation,” it added.

“Head held high”

In a statement shared with local media, Azima criticized MDP presidential candidate and former President Mohamed Nasheed.

“If I am dismissed from my job because certain individuals believe I am obstructing such a man [Nasheed] from coming to power, and if I lose my job, and if I lose my job because of this reason, and because I did not join them like you [Shahid] did, I see it as my sacrifice for this country. I will leave my job proud, with my head held high,” she told Haveeru.

If Nasheed took over the presidency, he would weaken the state and the country’s sovereignty, and weaken Maldives’ Islamic faith Azima alleged.

“I am saying so because I know so. However, I have not committed any act that violates the law. And I have not participated in any political activities. In my term, in matters relating to him [Nasheed] I acted fairly, within the law,” she said.

She alleged that, as president, Nasheed had sold part of the Maldives’ territory to another country – information which she had shared with the Majlis’ National Security Committee. Furthermore, Nasheed had attempted to include Jewish cultural education in the national curriculum, she claimed.

“I do not accept defying Islam and the Prophet. I believe the country has maintained its sovereignty because Maldivians have maintained the Islamic faith. I do not believe any other religion but Islam should exist in this country. This is my belief,” she said.

On the state’s decision to intervene in the Supreme Court’s vote annulment case, Azima said it was her duty to act as she had received credible evidence of electoral fraud. However, she said the state had not advocated for or against a vote annulment.

“I had to take action when I received credible evidence of repeated voting and votes cast by thousands of dead people, individuals who have not yet been born, and individuals who had not made ID cards through the Department of National Registration. Similarly, the state must be concerned when people made passports using those [fake] ID cards.

“These are matters that I would be questioned on if I did not take any action. Since these are matters that can be proven if a proper investigation is done, I did so with courage,” she said.

She also criticized Speaker Abdulla Shahid for helping MPs evade the courts, for supporting MPs who were in contempt of court and those who had committed criminal acts. Moreover, she said the Majlis had not followed the legal norms in dismissing a cabinet member.

“Today you are the judges and you have written your verdict without allowing the accused a right of response,” she said.


AG’s election intervention constitutional, yet morally questionable: senior legal source

Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukoor’s intervention in a Supreme Court case against the Elections Commission (EC) is constitutional, despite questions over the “moral grounds” for her involvement, a senior legal expert with experience working in government has said.

AG Azima last week intervened in a Supreme Court case filed by the Jumhooree Party (JP) seeking the annulment of the September 7 presidential election.

While the AG herself is not reported to be seeking an annulment of the first round of voting, she has asked the country’s apex court to order the prosecutor general and the police to investigate alleged electoral fraud after noting “serious issues”.

With no constitutional clause requiring the the AG’s involvement in the case, the intervention was made at the personal discretion of Azima, according to the confidential legal source.

The first round of voting has been met with unanimous confidence from local NGOs and international election observers over the credibility of the polls, amidst calls for the the second round of voting to proceed as scheduled.

The run-off vote is presently scheduled to be contested on September 28, between former President Mohamed Nasheed of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and second placed candidate Abdulla Yameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

“Public interest”

The source – who has served in a senior legal capacity under the last two governments – maintained that the AG was entitled to enter a case she personally deemed to be in the “public interest”.

However, with Azima representing the government, whose incumbent President Dr Mohamed Waheed secured five per cent of the vote in the first round of polls, the legal source said some of his peers were questioning the AG’s mandate to seemingly take sides in the JP’s case.

“Having spoken with other lawyers, how would the AG, who represents a candidate with only five percent of the public vote, decide what is in the public interest [in regards to the election case]? The AG can decide what is in the public interest, but I do not believe she has sufficient moral grounds to do so [with this case],” the source argued.

The same source added that the AG’s role in the ongoing Supreme Court case was complicated by the Maldives’ present lack of general rules or legislation regulating issues such as conflict of interest and similar ethical issues within the court system.

“Problem with the AG is that she is currently the authority on ethics of other lawyers and when to reprimand them,” the legal figure added. “We also lack a legal and judicial culture to really appreciate the idea of professional ethics.”

“No comment”

Rather than appearing to back the grievances of the JP, the senior legal figure said the correct procedure for the AG would have been to provide ‘”no comment” to the court when asked about the capability of the EC.

The source pointed to previous conduct of the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) in a case, where the institution had been asked to defend the Maldives Police Service against allegations of arresting people outside of correct procedure.

With the High Court requesting the PGO to answer for police in the case, state prosecutors – concerned the MPS may be at fault – opted to provide a ‘no comment’ on the matter.

The legal source claimed that such a move – based on best practices from across the international community – allowed the courts to infer that police had acted outside of regulations without the PGO taking a side on the matter.

The legal figure also said that, although the AG was permitted to take a side in the case, she should not vocally back a specific party.

AG denies taking sides

Speaking during a Supreme Court hearing on September 18, Attorney General Azima told the court that the state was not taking sides in the legal dispute.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) decided on Friday (September 20) are currently pursuing a no-confidence motion against Azima, as well as for a change the composition of the Supreme Court bench.

The MDP had  previously accused the Azima of advocating against “the interests of a state institution or the state and in favour of the Jumhooree Party’s self-interest.”

The AG, however, repeated her claims that the her office had come across discrepancies in the voter registry published by the EC prior to the election.

“There were names of underage people in the list. There were names repeated in the list. Unless these issues are resolved before holding the second round of the elections, rights of many voters will be undermined,” Shukoor told the court.

AG Azima and Deputy AG Ahmed Usham were not responding to requests for information at time of press.


MDP proposes changes to Supreme Court bench and no-confidence motion against Attorney General

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) decided during a contingency meeting of the party’s national council on Friday (September 20) to pursue a no-confidence motion against Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukoor and change the composition of the Supreme Court bench through legislation.

The meeting took place after three consecutive days of lengthy Supreme Court proceedings of a case filed by the Jumhooree Party (JP) against the Elections Commission (EC) seeking annulment of the first round of the September 7 presidential election. The Supreme Court hearings adjourned for the weekend on Thursday.

At its meeting yesterday, the MDP national council adopted a resolution to undertake all necessary efforts to ensure that the presidential election would be free, fair and transparent and “decided only by the vote of the people and not by the courts”.

The resolution submitted by MDP MP Ahmed Hamza was passed with unanimous consent of all 51 members of the national council in attendance.

‘Certainty of the margin’

During the debate on the resolution, the MDP presidential candidate former President Mohamed Nasheed said it was important for all political parties – including the JP – to have no doubts over the integrity of the electoral process.

Nasheed said that the JP’s main issue was the narrow margin of 1.28 percent – a difference of just 2,677 votes – between its candidate Gasim Ibrahim and the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) candidate Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

For the JP to accept the narrow margin, Nasheed said that the registry of voters had to be checked to verify the JP’s claim that ineligible voters were on the list.

Nasheed noted that the EC had published the registry in the government gazette for public scrutiny, after which the MDP had identified some 800 people in the list that were either deceased, underage or repeated more than once.

The question that has to be answered, said Nasheed, is whether more than 2,000 people who were not eligible to vote had cast their ballots.

The former president expressed confidence that electoral fraud had not occurred in the September 7 election even if there were problems with the voters registry.

Altering Supreme Court composition

“As experts are noting that some judges on the Supreme Court bench lack certain kinds of legal knowledge and experience, it is our view changes has to be made to the composition of the Supreme Court’s bench. That is, by amending the Judges Act,” Nasheed said.

Shortly before the MDP government was toppled on February 7, 2012, the party proposed a bill to amend the Judicature Act that would reduce the number of judges on both the benches of the Supreme Court and High Court.

MDP Spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy told Minivan News at the time that the amendments had been forwarded due to inefficiency of both the High Court and the Supreme Court in concluding cases.

In March 2013, the MDP national council, following a controversial Supreme Court ruling that overturned parliament’s decision to vote out Civil Service Commission (CSC) Chair Mohamed Fahmy Hassan on sexual harassment charges, passed a motion calling on its parliamentary group to seek to abolish the existing Supreme Court bench and replace it with a new panel of judges, including foreign judges.

Meanwhile, during Friday’s national council meeting, Nasheed also stressed the importance of speeding up the process of appointing a parliament representative to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). The seat reserved in the JSC for a member of parliament was declared vacant after JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim formally became a candidate of the presidential election.

No confidence motion against Attorney General

During the debate, MDP MP Ahmed Sameer announced that the MDP parliamentary group has prepared a no-confidence motion against Attorney General Azima Shukoor.

Sameer contended that the Attorney General neglected her duties and has advocated on behalf of a political party against the EC, a state institution.

A special sitting of parliament during its ongoing recess has been scheduled for Sunday upon request by 29 MDP MPs.

Deputy leader of PPM’s Parliamentary Group Moosa Zameer told local media outlet CNM today that the PPM would not support such a motion against Shukoor in parliament.

Zameer said that although the PPM had not taken an official stand on the matter, the party would not support removal of its former council member.

However, with the support of at least six out of ten MPs of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) – which recently decided to back former President Nasheed in the run-off election – the MDP would have enough votes in parliament to pass the no-confidence motion.


Statements by election observers “have not much weight”, JP running mate Hassan Saeed tells Supreme Court

Former Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed, running mate of resort tycoon and presidential candidate Gasim Ibrahim, has told the Supreme Court that positive assessments of the September 7 presidential poll by local and international election observers “do not carry much weight”.

Dr Saeed – who is now leading the Jumhooree Party (JP)’s legal bid to annul the election results in the Supreme Court – made the remarks during the second hearing of the party’s case against the Election Commission (EC) held on Wednesday.

Dr Saeed told the Supreme Court that statements made by both local and international observers that the election had proceeded smoothly and freely did not reflect the reality of the situation.

“Yes, I even agree that the voting process went very smoothly. But those foreign observers don’t know the depth of the issues. Their words do not carry much weight. Some of the elections which have been observed by the international observers, some people have died, but yet they have reported the election went smoothly,” Saeed told the court.

He also claimed the JP – which narrowly missed a place in the run-off with 24.07 percent of the vote – had sufficient evidence and witnesses who would testify in court that electoral discrepancies and irregularities had taken place.

Dr Saeed also declared that Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukoor’s acknowledgement of electoral discrepancies during the first round of presidential elections gives weight to the party’s allegations  of electoral fraud.

During the first hearing of the case, Attorney General Shukoor told the court the AG’s Office had also found discrepancies in the voter list, including underage people listed as eligible for voting, and the mixing up of voter information – including gender, address, and date of birth.

Addressing the seven-member Supreme Court bench, Saeed also alleged the EC was not following a High Court order issued Tuesday (September 17) to allow viewing of the original voter list at the commission. Saeed claimed that despite repeated requests – both verbal and written – the commission was yet to give any response.

The High Court ruled that it was a right of all presidential candidates and their affiliated political parties to view the original voter list and ordered the EC to allow this to take place at the commission in presence of its officials.

Instead, Saeed claimed, the EC lawyers had dismissed as baseless and unfounded JP’s evidence suggesting electoral fraud, without giving the party the chance to verify it evidences against the commission’s data. This action by the EC, the former Attorney General contested, disregarded the doctrine of ‘Clean Hand’.

The ‘Clean Hand’ doctrine is a rule of law that a person coming to court with a lawsuit or petition for a court order must be free from unfair conduct (have “clean hands” or not have done anything wrong) in regard to the subject matter of his/her claim.

During the hearing, Saeed also criticised the EC’s Ballot Progress Reporting System (BPRS) – a web based application that tallied the number of voters who had cast their vote or are in the queue to vote – contesting that it had several weaknesses and loopholes.

He claimed that the entire application was built without due consultation with the National Center for Information Technology (NCIT) – a government agency responsible for management of IT systems within government institutions. Instead, Saeed claimed the system had been built and designed by Indian IT specialists.

Saeed also noted that the EC members had previously acknowledged that the BPRS were having problems and yet, at the same time the EC had claimed that there was no possibility of double voting. This, Saeed contested, did not make any sense, and he alleged there was a difference between the number shown by the BPRS that had voted and the EC’s figures obtained through manual counting. He challenged why the commission had not shifted to the manual system when the electronic mechanism collapsed.

In response to the arguments raised by the EC lawyers during Tuesday’s hearing, Saeed said the country would not go into a constitutional void even if a new president failed to take the oath of the office on November 11 – the date on which the term of incumbent President Mohamed Waheed Hassan expires.

Reflecting on the delay in electing the new parliament in 2009, Saeed claimed that no one had challenged the legitimacy of the parliament even when it had been elected months after the date mentioned in the constitution.

“We need to ensure that the person who is elected by the popular vote of the people takes the oath as the president. Not someone who has found their way to it by deception and cheating. Right now, we are no longer sure whether it is the person who the people voted is taking the office,” Saeed told the court.

Saeed also requested the court issue an order to the police to investigate the party’s allegations of electoral fraud.

EC’s counter argument

EC Lawyer and former Attorney General Husnu Al Suood responded to Saeed’s arguments claiming the Attorney General’s acknowledgment of issues during the voting process did not substantiate the JP’s baseless allegations.

He repeated his arguments claiming that the JP has till to this day, failed to produce any substantial evidence to support their claims, let alone annul the elections.

Suood also claimed that the General Elections Act – the parent legislation on general election procedures and issues – did not envision the annulment of an entire election, but rather only allows the annulment of the results of ballot boxes in which discrepancies were proven in court.

He claimed that factors that could lead to annulment of the results of a ballot box were criminal offences such as bribery and illegal influencing of voting, and therefore any claim of electoral discrepancies must be proved by the standard of proof required for criminal offences: beyond reasonable doubt.

Suood also reiterated that the JP’s claim that its evidence was based on information obtained from the party’s own hotline and private investigations lacked any value as evidence, and that it was not sufficient to annul elections.

He also criticised the request made by the Attorney General Azima Shukoor to order the Elections Commission to suspend holding the run-off elections until the issues had been resolved, describing it as a request for an indefinite order that could put the entire state in a state of limbo.

Suood also claimed that if the Supreme Court went on to issue such an order as requested by the Attorney General, it would lead to the suspension of the entire constitution.

“We are not aligned towards the JP” – Attorney General Azima Shukoor

Speaking during the hearing, Attorney General Azima Shukoor told the court that the State was not taking sides in the legal dispute between the JP and the EC, while maintaining that it had not admitted to any claims made by the JP.

However, the Attorney General repeated her claims that the AG’s Office had come across discrepancies in the voter registry published by the EC prior to the election.

“There were names of underage people in the list. There were names repeated in the list. Unless these issues are not resolved before holding the second round of the elections, rights of many voters will be undermined,” Shukoor told the court.

She also claimed that the State should and would be concerned when a group of 50,000 people came up to it seeking justice.

“What is happening here is that one party is claiming that there were discrepancies in the voting process while the other party is simply questioning the authenticity of the claim,” Shukoor said.

“How can those allegations be verified unless the Elections Commission allows access to the information of the voting? Here, we are speaking about one party who has the information but is refusing to share it in order to verify the claims,” Shukoor claimed.

She also questioned the panel of judges as to whether the EC should go on to hold the second round of elections with the allegations and claims unanswered.

However, the Attorney General claimed that she still had faith in the Elections Commission’s ability to resolve the issues, but said this could only be done if the commission gave up its “defensive approach” and showed openness to look into the claims.

Shukoor also said the Attorney General’s decision to intervene in the case was only to bring the issues it had found to the notice of the judges and to seek a remedy to them, and that the government did not wish to take a stand on whether the election should be annulled or not.

Meanwhile, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s lawyers told the court that the party had accepted the outcome of the results and had not come up with any discrepancies during the elections that would affect the outcome.

The party also echoed similar sentiments as that of the EC’s lawyer Suood, claiming that the JP’s evidence could not be considered as admissible evidence by the courts.

The next hearing will be held on Thursday morning (September 19) at 11:00am.


MDP condemns Attorney General’s intervention in JP’s Supreme Court effort to annul election results

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has condemned the intervention of Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukoor in the Jumhooree Party’s (JP’s) case at the Supreme Court seeking annulment of the September 7 presidential election, expressing concern over the AG’s support of the JP’s stance at Tuesday’s hearing.

In a press release on Tuesday night (September 17), the MDP accused Azima Shukoor of advocating against “the interests of a state institution or the state and in favour of the Jumhooree Party’s self-interest.”

As the Attorney General represents the state, the MDP contended, Azima Shukoor should advocate on behalf of the state and protection of the public interest.

“Therefore the party calls upon the Attorney General – appointed by Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, who got only five percent of the vote – to cease advocating on behalf of the state to nullify the votes cast by the people in the first round of the presidential election, and annul the election to dis-empower the people and the constitution,” the statement concluded.

Azima meanwhile told newspaper Haveeru today that article 133(d) of the constitution allows the Attorney General to intervene in such cases. The article states, “The Attorney General shall have authority, with the leave of the court, to appear as a friend of the court in any civil proceedings to which the Government is not a party, where in the opinion of the Attorney General the interests of the State or the public interest dictate.”

“The government decided that we have to say something for the sake of public interest since we can see all this information,” Azima was quoted as saying.

Azima also denied seeking annulment of the election at yesterday’s Supreme Court hearing. She had however asked the apex court to order the Prosecutor General and the police to investigate alleged electoral fraud as “serious issues” had been noted.

The AG told the court that her office had uncovered discrepancies in the voter registry, including underage people listed as eligible for voting, and the mixing up of voter information – including gender, address, and date of birth.

High Court ruling

Meanwhile, in its judgment (Dhivehi) yesterday in the JP’s case against the Elections Commission (EC), the High Court ordered the commission to allow the JP supervised access to the voter lists in lieu of ordering the EC to release hard copies of the list to the party.

The JP had claimed that the registry included hundreds of ineligible voters (underage citizens), names of voters doubled or repeated, and thousands of people registered to houses without the home owner’s knowledge.

The High Court ruling however stated that the JP was unable to offer any evidence to substantiate the claims of electoral fraud.

The ruling stated that election complaints “should not be submitted based on suspicion,” noting that the EC’s lawyer, former Attorney General Husnu Suood, had addressed each of the JP’s arguments.

Of the seven people the JP claimed were deceased but had voted, the EC proved to the court that four were alive.

On the JP’s complaint regarding people registered to houses in Male’ allegedly without the home owner’s knowledge, the EC explained that people who were originally on the Male’ Municipality’s Special Register – a special registry of people residing in the capital without owning homes – were registered to vote in ballot boxes closest to their current residence. They were registered upon written request, the EC lawyer noted.

Moreover, Suood said that the EC depended heavily on data provided by the Department of National Registration (DNR) in compiling the voters registry. The 170 names that the JP claimed were doubled on the list would have different identity card (ID) numbers and dates of birth, he noted.

DNR Director General Fareeda Yoosuf insisted yesterday that there was no chance forged IDs could be used to vote.

Each individual identity card is unique and does not change even when renewed and, even in cases where lost IDs are replaced, the same identity number is used, Yoosuf noted.

“The card number will remain the same for each individual no matter how many times the card is renewed,” she explained. “We haven’t issued identity cards with two different numbers to the same person, so I’m certain that can’t be done.”

“When each person has a unique number and is allowed to vote based on that number, there is no chance a person can vote more than once by using different ID numbers,” she continued.

No complaints of forged identity cards have been received by the DNR so far, she noted.

“Vote Rigged!”

According to the official results of the first round of voting, MDP candidate Mohamed Nasheed finished top with 45.45 percent (95,224 votes) of the vote, followed by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) candidate MP Abdulla Yameen in second place with 25.35 percent (53,099).

JP candidate Gasim Ibrahim narrowly missed out on a place in the second round run-off on September 28 with 24.07 percent (50,422 votes). The JP coalition however disputed the results at both the High Court and Supreme Court and launched a “Vote Rigged!” campaign of rallies – complemented by special programmes on Gasim’s Villa TV – alleging that the EC rigged the polls.

“God willing, it will be Gasim Ibrahim who will be the President of the Maldives on 11 November. Allah willing, do not doubt this. I tell you, do not doubt this,” the business tycoon declared at a recent rally.

Early on Monday morning , police acting on a tip-off from the JP, barricaded streets around the EC and took its garbage into custody. The JP accused the commission of disposing of evidence, though police later reported that the rubbish contained nothing affecting the outcome of the election.

EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek has emphatically denied allegations of vote rigging, pointing to the commission’s transparency, ongoing complaints investigations, and praise from a broad spectrum of election observers.

The UN Resident Coordinator in the Maldives, Tony Lisle, issued a statement yesterday encouraging “all presidential candidates to respect the results” of first round of presidential elections – in line with those of all other observers on the September 7 polls including delegations from the Commonwealth, UK, India, Australia, Malaysia, US, EU, Japan and Thailand.


Supreme Court hears Jumhooree Party’s case requesting election annulment

The Supreme Court has held the first hearing of the case filed by the Jumhooree Party (JP) against the Elections Commission (EC), requesting the apex court annul the presidential election held earlier this month.

Following a third place finish in the poll, JP leader and resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim announced his belief that he “should have finished the race in first place”, denouncing the results released by the EC.

During the first hearing the legal team of the JP, led by Gasim’s running mate and former Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed, produced 13 reasons for the court to annul the elections. The party was also joined today by Attorney General Azima Shukoor and representatives of the second-placed Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), who criticised the EC in court.

Among the reasons given by Dr Saeed were: the inclusion of 669 deceased people in the voter registry, 102 repeated names, and the inclusion of 1,818 fake people whose national identity card numbers were not in Department of National Registration (DNR) database.

Dr Hassan also produced the names of voters allegedly omitted from the voter list, cases of double voting and of EC officials not using police assistance when transporting ballot boxes.

Prior to the hearing scheduled today (September 17), Dr Saeed told local media that in its petition filed at the Supreme Court, the JP would also request that the court order the security services to oversee the entire electoral process of a fresh presidential election.

The JP, in light of the evidence produced, requested the court declare the voter list and voter registry to have been compiled in contrast to the requirements of the law, and to therefore annul the presidential polls.

The party also requested that the court issue an injunction ordering the Elections Commission to stop work towards the scheduled run-off elections expected to happen on September 28.

EC response and High Court hearing

In response to the claims, Elections Commission’s lawyer and former Attorney General Husnu Al Suood claimed that JP’s evidence lacked any substance or basis, and questioned the authenticity of the documents produced to the court.

“The ultimate question we are facing here is, has the Jumhooree Party produced sufficient evidence which is enough to annul a presidential election?” Suood asked the seven-member panel of judges.

Suood – citing cases from other countries, including the famous 2000 US Supreme Court case Bush v. Al Gore regarding its presidential elections – contested that a constitutional void could follow any delay of the electoral process.

Attorney General Azima Shukoor – representing the state – told the court that the Attorney General’s Office had also found discrepancies in the voter registry, including underage people listed as eligible for voting, and the mixing up of voter information – including gender, address, and date of birth.

Although the Attorney General did not explicitly support annulment of the election, she too along with PPM and JP spoke against the commission’s arguments.

Azima requested that the Supreme Court order the Prosecutor General’s Office to take action against those found responsible for electoral fraud and other discrepancies.

Meanwhile, PPM lawyer Adam Zaneen unexpectedly also requested the court to annul the election based on the discrepancies highlighted by the JP.

The opposition, and poll-leading MDP, disputed the PPM’s argument, echoing Suood’s assertion that the JP had not produced substantial evidence – even that required to prove by balance of probabilities – to substantiate claims of electoral fraud.

The MDP also contended that annulling the election would undermine the rights of 95,000 voters who had backed the its candidate.

The Chief Justice concluded by saying that another hearing of the case would be held Wednesday (September 18), though he did not state a time.

Earlier in the week, the JP filed a similar lawsuit against the EC at the High Court, requesting the court order the EC to hand over the original voting lists placed at the ballot boxes during voting.

After a hearing today, the High Court  ordered the EC to facilitate, in such a way that will remove the complainant’s doubts, the viewing of the voters list at the commission for Gasim Ibrahim himself or “a sufficient number” of his representatives.

The High Court panel stated that the ruling was based on the fact that candidates contesting in elections have the right to ascertain that all matters relating to elections are conducted freely and fairly, in a transparent manner, while the EC has a legal obligation to ensure and demonstrate the same.

Outside the courtroom, the EC has meanwhile emphatically rejected the JP’s allegations of misconduct, pointing to unanimous praise for the first round’s registration, voting and counting processes by local and international election observers.


HRCM claims mandate pushed to limit over 15 year-old’s flogging sentence

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has said its mandate has been pushed to the limit after “braving” the country’s courts to oppose a controversial flogging sentence handed to a 15 year-old sexual abuse victim that was overturned this week.

The flogging sentence handed to the minor by the Juvenile Court in February was  overturned by the High Court yesterday (August 21) after the girl denied confessing to having had consensual sex with an unknown partner.

HRCM member Jeehan Mahmoud said that the decision to punish the minor, which has since garnered global media attention, represented a “continuous failure” on behalf of the whole state to protect children and other victims of sexual abuse.

She therefore called on all stakeholders to strengthen their internal mechanisms for protecting vulnerable people in the country.

“Lots of money has been invested, but we have failed to uphold a system,” said Jeehan. “There must be a better translation into reality. We need to ensure that the group works for all cases – rather than the one or two that gain international attention.”

Jeehan said that as part of efforts to appeal the flogging sentence handed to the minor, the HRCM had adopted what she called an unprecedented tactic of “braving the courts” as a third party by directly approaching the judiciary.

“We required permission from the courts,” said Jeehan. “This was a groundbreaking opportunity…we pushed our mandate to its limits.”

Authorities had previously said that the minor had confessed to having consensual sex during a separate investigation into her alleged abuse that had resulted in the birth – and subsequent murder – of her baby.

On the back of the High Court’s ruling yesterday (August 21), Amnesty International – which has previously warned that the 15 year-old’s case was the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of the country’s treatment of victims of sexual offences – has released a statement welcoming the decision.

“Annulling this sentence was of course the right thing to do. We are relieved that the girl will be spared this inhumane ‘punishment’ based on an outrageous conviction,” said Amnesty’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director Polly Truscott.

Amnesty went on to argue that the sentence ought not to have been imposed in the first place, before calling for a moratorium on flogging.

Despite the moratorium calls, President Dr Mohamed Waheed defended the wider use of Islamic Sharia in the country’s courts, while expressing his satisfaction with the High Court verdict this week.

“I also note that [the] verdict has established beyond doubt the sound principles of Islamic Shariah for such cases and became part of the country’s legal framework,” said the president in a statement.

“Considering the state of the country today, with sexual violence against women and children increasing daily, it is essential for the criminal justice system to ensure that women and children do not become prey to further abuse. I believe that establishing procedures necessary for the legal framework to protect such children is a welcome development to ensure that such tragic incidents do not repeat.”

Waheed added that he saw the decision as “major progress” in the protection of children’s rights. He concluded by saying that the child was still under the state’s care.

“The state will continue to provide the assistance she needs to overcome the tragic ordeals she endured and live a happy life in our society.”

Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukhoor echoed President Waheed’s comments today, arguing that Islamic Sharia is perfectly well-equipped to protect the rights of children.

The AG also spoke of an online Avaaz petition calling for both the minor’s sentence to be overturned as well as an end to flogging, criticising those she said had “politicised” the issue, arguing that they had made the work of Maldivian authorities difficult.

The online petition was signed by over 2 million people – a group more than six times the population of the Maldives.

The Maldivian judicial system currently practices a combination of common law and Islamic Sharia. Article 142 of the country’s constitution mandates that any matter on which the constitution or the law is silent must be considered according sharia.

Maldivian civil society group Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) meanwhile has continued to press the government for ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure.

This protocol provides an additional avenue of complaint should the state fail to uphold the rights of a child, which ARC mantain would greatly improve upon current domestic mechanisms.

“The case of the 15- year old girl is a good example of how the procedure could have been used to approach the UN Committee,” the group’s co-founder Zenysha Shaheed Zaki told Minivan News.


Maldives government terminates Nexbis agreement, gives 14 days to vacate

The Maldives government has terminated its agreement with Malaysian security firm Nexbis to install and operate a border control system, giving it 14 days to vacate.

Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim local media that the disputed contract – signed under the previous government of former President Mohamed Nasheed in 2010 – was terminated by the cabinet yesterday over fears it was causing unspecified “major losses” to the state.

The termination was announced as immigration officials today said replacement technology being provided by the US government was not presently functional, with implementation “on hold” pending a legal hearing into the matter.

Department of Immigration Spokesperson Ibrahim Ashraf told Minivan News this morning that he had not personally been made aware of any decision by the government to terminate the agreement.

However, Ashraf confirmed that replacement technology being provided free of charge by the US government was “not 100 percent functional” at present.

“Because of legal issues, the project has been on hold,” he explained.

Immigration officials last month confirmed that “testing” had been underway on the new US-donated system, while Nexbis’ border control technology remained in use to monitor the arrivals and departures of foreign nationals

Ashraf referred further questions on the Nexbis system to Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali, who was not responding to calls at time of press.

Nexbis is the second high profile foreign investment to be suddenly evicted by the administration of President Dr Mohamed Waheed in the past 12 months.

The government last November announced it was terminating a 25-year concession agreement with India-based GMR to construct and operate a new terminal at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) in Male, giving the company seven days to vacate the country.

GMR is currently seeking compensation totaling US$1.4 billion from the government as part of arbitration proceedings to be heard in a Singaporean court, damages eclipsing the annual state budget.

Speaking to local media today, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim was quoted as saying that the government expected to assume control of the country’s borders at the end of the 14 day notice period given to Nexbis.

He claimed that the US system was also “ready to be operational”, although no decision had yet been made to use the technology.

Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukoor added that discussions were presently being held with Nexbis over reaching an out of court settlement for terminating the contract, although she declined to provide any more details to media today.

“We assure you that the burden on the state will be far less with the termination of the agreement rather than continuing with it. We will take this process forward in the best interest of the state,” she was quoted as saying by Haveeru.

Concession agreement

Under the concession agreement signed with the Maldives government, Nexbis levied a fee of US$2 from passengers in exchange for installing, maintaining and upgrading the country’s immigration system.  The company also agreed a fee of US$15 for every work permit card issued under the system.

Both AG Azima and Defence Minister Nazim were not responding to calls at time of press.

Nexbis last month invoiced the Department of Immigration and Emigration for US$2.8 million (MVR 43 million) for the installation and operation of its border control technology in line with a concession agreement signed in 2010 – requesting payment be settled within 30 days.

Nexbis’ lawyers argued that the company had expected the fee to be included in the taxes and surcharges applied to airline tickets in and out of the country, according to local media.  However, lawyers argued these payments had not been made due to the government’s “neglect” in notifying the relevant international authorities.

Minivan News was awaiting a response from Suood, Anwar & Co – the company’s legal representatives in the Maldives – at time of press.

Parliamentary vote

Parliament had voted unanimously to terminate the agreement on 25 December 2012, in line with a recommendation from the Finance Committee alleging foul play in the signing of the agreement with former Immigration Controller Illyas Hussain Ibrahim.

Presenting the Finance Committee report to the floor, Chair MP Ahmed Nazim explained at the time that the “main problem” flagged by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) was that the tender had not been made in accordance with the documents by the National Planning Council authorising the project.

The Finance Committee also recommended terminating the agreement over concerns it contained clauses to waive taxes to the company, Nazim said.

He noted that imposing or waiving taxes was a prerogative of parliament under article 97(d) of the constitution.

Following parliament’s termination of the project in December, Nexbis sought a legal injunction to prevent any cancellation of the agreement while court hearings over the contract were still ongoing.

The company had sought to contest whether the ACC has the power to compulsorily request the government to cease all work in relation to the border control system agreement.

However, in April of this year, the High Court overturned a Civil Court ruling declaring the ACC could not terminate a border control system (BSC) agreement signed by the Department of Immigration with Malaysian mobile security firm Nexbis.

The High Court ruling (Dhivehi) cleared the way for the Civil Court to hear the case filed by the ACC should it be resubmitted.

Nexbis has emphatically denied allegations of corruption, previously speculating that “criminal elements supporting human trafficking” were seeking to sabotage the agreement.


Adhaalath Party President vows to dissolve parliament, force MPs to resign

Additional reporting by Neil Meritt

The Adhaalath Party has threatened to dissolve parliament for “not functioning constitutionally”, by pressuring members to resign “just as former President Nasheed was” in February 2012.

President of the Adhaalath Party (AP), Sheikh Imran Abdullah, claimed parliamentarians were not conducting themselves according to the constitution or serving the Maldivian people.

Imran was speaking during a ‘National Movement’ event held at the Artificial Beach in Male’ on March 19, reported local media.

“If the parliament continues to fail to function according to the wishes of the people, Members of Parliament will be pressured to resign in in a similar manner as former President Mohamed Nasheed,” Imran declared.

“God willing, we will dissolve the parliament if it is not conducted according to the constitution. If they don’t want that, they should follow the constitution. We want the parliament to be an honourable place,” he added.

Imran claimed the recently ratified Parliamentary Privileges Act and Political Party Bill are not constitutionally valid laws.

“The Supreme Court has the authority to declare void laws that are enacted in violation of the constitution. So the recently-made Privileges Act and Political Party Act for which protests have been held after they were returned without ratification, are void.

“No action can be taken based on the void articles in these laws. We are not concerned about being accused of violating MPs’ privileges,” he said.

President Mohamed Waheed ratified the two controversial bills – the Parliament’s Privileges Bill and Political Parties Bill – despite previous claims that the two bills had several lapses and “unconstitutional” elements.

Following the President’s initial vetoing of the two bills, parliament overruled the presidential veto by a house majority and forced the bill into law, giving the president no option but to ratify the bills – one of which would see the dissolution of his own political party.

“Not a pressing issue”: Deputy Speaker Nazim

During parliament’s session Wednesday (March 19) MPs presented the issue to the Majlis floor considering Sheik Imran’s comments, a parliamentary official told Minivan News.

“Deputy Speaker of Parliament, MP Ahmed Nazim, who was chairing the sessions, said the matter was not a pressing issue despite concerns the comments were contrary to immunity provided for Majlis members.

“Pointing to parliament’s rules of procedure, Nazim requested any concerns on the matter be forwarded to the parliamentary committee overseeing MP privileges and immunity,” the official added.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) both reflected the parliamentary sentiments that Imran’s remarks were of no concern.

MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor dismissed Imran’s remarks while speaking to Minivan News today.

“Sheik Imran has no understanding of public opinion. Parliament is very popular and the public looks to their elected representatives to solve problems,” claimed Ghafoor.

“As usual, he has got it wrong as he found out people do not like the coup he helped pull off by radicalsing groups of police and the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF).

“I think parliament is the only democratic institution left. The judiciary has been proven to be corrupt and my party has declared their intention to replace the supreme court bench,” Ghafoor added.

DRP Deputy Leader Ibrahim Shareef agreed, telling Minivan News that Imran’s comments were merely rhetoric.

“Imran is not serious, it’s all rhetoric with no meaning or substance. No such thing [as in the dissolution of parliament] is going to happen. All political leaders have rhetoric, it’s not something to worry about,” said Shareef.

“In fact our political climate is so polarised political leaders seek to please their constituencies. If things our political leaders said were true, we would have landed on the moon by now.

“This is not the way it should be. It does a lot of damage over the long term. It’s very sad, but has become a commonplace reality of life,” Shareef stated.

Unlike Ghafoor, Shareef maintained that the supreme court is a legitimate institution.

“The supreme court is one of the properly functioning institutions. It is not colored by the polarised political climate here,” claimed Shareef.

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

The Adhaalath Party and Progressive Party of Maldives were not responding to calls at time of press.