Chair of the Elections Commission (EC) Fuwad Thowfeek has rejected allegations from the Jumhooree Party that it had disposed of official documents relating to the presidential election, after police last night acted on the JP’s claim and barricaded the commission.
The JP came third in the September 7 election with 24 percent of the vote, narrowly missing out on a place in the run-off election.
Police barricaded the entrance to the EC secretariat in the early hours on Monday morning, after the JP alleged the commission was attempting to destroy documents “that would unveil discrepancies in the last elections”.
When Minivan News journalists arrived at the premises, police had barricaded the road which led to the EC’s office, and put up police lines around a couple of black plastic bags that had been intended to be thrown out as garbage.
EC officials – including the commission’s Secretary General Asim Abdul Sattar – were standing outside. Police officers in both uniform and civilian dress were standing outside the premises.
An official of the commission who was inside the building confirmed to Minivan News the police had not entered the building.
When asked about the trash bags left outside the premises, the official said nothing important was inside.
“Like every office, we too have papers that need to be thrown away. Those bags had just shredded waste paper. I don’t understand why people are making such a big fuss out of it,” the official told Minivan News.
At about 10:45am, a police truck came to the premises and took away the garbage.
A police media official confirmed to Minivan News that the trash bags were currently under police guard, and said they were now “processing” the bags.
“The case was reported to police by the Jumhooree Party (JP) and the police were present at the premises from the time the matter was reported,” the official confirmed.
In a subsequent press statement, police confirmed no documents that would affect election results were found among those disposed of by the elections commission.
Meanwhile Ibrahim Khaleel, Spokesperson for JP’s Presidential Candidate and resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim, told Villa Television (VTV) – a station owned by Gasim – said the party had reported the matter to police around 3:00am in the morning.
Speaking to local newspaper Haveeru regarding the matter, EC President Fuwad Thowfeek said the commission used draft documents for administrative purposes, noting that such documents were unofficial documents that had no legal effect.
Thowfeek said the papers spotted in the trash bags were such draft documents and that this was not “something new”. Some of those papers, he said, would include empty envelopes.
“It is our legal duty to protect official documents relating to the elections. Those that people are claiming to have seen are just draft documents. Those were not used for any election purpose. We are very certain about that. We regularly throw away used papers and rough documents,” Thowfeek told Haveeru.
Thowfeek said he had learned that the trash bag may have included a slip issued after voter re-registration, and said this may have been thrown away.
The EC Chair also said the commission had given permission to police to check the contents of the trash bags in the presence of EC officials.
“We have informed the police that they can check the trash bags to assure themselves as to whether they contain any official documents relating to the election. We are looking after the documents regarding the presidential elections round the clock. We have not thrown away any official documents and the allegations levied against us are outright lies,” Thowfeek explained.
Thowfeek went onto claim that such allegations levied against the commission at such a critical time were made with the intent to undermine public trust and confidence in the institution. Such baseless allegations would not deter the commission members from executing their legal duties, Thowfeek added.
“We assure you that we have not done and will not do anything to manipulate the outcome of any election. We will fully protect all documents relating to the elections and the voting process,” Thowfeek claimed.
The conduct of the election has been broadly praised by local and international election observers from Transparency Maldives, India and the Commonwealth, as well as observers from other nation states.
Local NGO Transparency Maldives – which ran the most comprehensive observation operation on the day – also announced prior to the release of the provisional results that none of the incidents reported on election day would have a “material impact on the outcome of the election”.
The UK and the EU have both issued statements praising the conduct of Saturday’s presidential election, describing them as “transparent and competitive”.