High Court throws out EC appeal against new member Habeeb

The High Court has thrown out an appeal by the Elections Commission (EC) against its newly appointed commission member Ismail Habeeb.

Habeeb was made redundant in January 2013 before contesting his dismissal at the Labor tribunal. The tribunal ordered his reinstatement in August 2013, by which time he had been appointed to the Civil Court as its senior administrator.

The EC initially demoted Habeeb on corruption allegations in 2012 claiming he had not followed due procedures in appointing an EC staff and in awarding a scholarship to another staff. But the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) cleared Habeeb of the charges.

The EC decided to appeal the tribunal’s decision at the High Court, but the commission’s lawyers failed to attend the hearing scheduled for Monday.

In the meantime, Habeeb was appointed by the People’s Majlis to the EC on March 12 to replace former member ‘Ogaru’ Ibrahim Waheed who had resigned in October 2013 citing health issues.

Habeeb’s confirmation to the EC followed the Supreme Court’s controversial removal of the commission’s President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz.

The dismissals left the EC without the three members required for a quorum to hold meetings and approve decisions, raising doubts over the commission’s ability to prepare for and conduct parliamentary elections as scheduled on March 22.


Commonwealth parliamentary elections observer group arrives

In preparation for the parliamentary elections, the Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma has constituted an Observer Group with a view to assess compliance with national and international standards, and to strengthen the electoral framework.

The observation is led by former Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who introduced the group at a press conference held in Malé today (March 19).

An arrival statement was read by Golding, who stated that the group’s task was to “consider all factors relating to the credibility of the electoral process,” and stressed their commitment to staying “objective, impartial and independent.”

The group will “assess whether the elections have been conducted according to the standards to which Maldives has committed itself, including both the Maldivian constitutional and legislative framework and relevant Commonwealth and international commitments,” Golding added.

The group consists of seven members who will be drawn from across the regions of the Commonwealth, and includes a range of experts from political, electoral, legal, and media fields. Golding explained that the observers will be deployed across various atolls on March 20, but did not disclose when asked which atolls they would be monitoring.

A preliminary statement of findings will be published shortly after the elections on March 22, followed by an official report which will be published following the Group’s departure on March 28.

When asked by Minivan News during the conference whether their arrival in the Maldives has been well received by the government, Golding confirmed that they met all the relevant stakeholders and had a “good balance of views conveyed to us about the challenges that may exist.”

The Commonwealth team sent to observe the 2013 presidential election described the initial poll as “inclusive and competitive”, before the results were annulled by the Supreme Court after allegations of inconsistencies within the voter registry.

The group had described the voter register as “accurate and robust”, with Chair of the observation group Dr Lawrence Gonzi noting that “Fears expressed by some political parties regarding possible large numbers of deceased voters and voters registered in the wrong geographic area seem to be unfounded.”

Golding was also asked by local media today if a credible and fair election was possible following the recent decision by the Supreme Court to dismiss the Elections Commission President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz Hassan.

Goulding responded that they have “taken note,” but added that he was unable to divulge the details of their discussions.

In addition to the Commonwealth, the European Union have been invited by the Elections Commission to implement the Maldives’ first full EU Election Observation Mission (EOM).

According to the Chief Observer Eduard Kukan, the EOM intend to strengthen human rights and the rule of law, to deter malpractice, and to improve the electoral environment. Their report will also make concrete recommendations to help improve the electoral framework.

India this week revealed that it had declined an invite from the Elections Commission to send a team of observers due to election preparations in India itself.

“The Maldives Elections Commission had invited our Election Commission to observe the polls. But the Election Commission is very busy managing the current schedule, so we have declined,” the New India Express reported a senior government official from the country as having stated.

Officials at the Indian High Commission in Malé have confirmed that no observers will be sent, though it was pointed out that High Commission staff would be performing some observer functions.


Finance Ministry restrictions will not obstruct Majlis polls, says EC

The Elections Commission (EC) has said that recent financial restrictions in acquiring the election budget will not have any impact on the upcoming parliamentary elections.

In all elections following the cancelled first round of last year’s presidential elections, the Ministry of Finance and Treasury have not released in bulk the total budget required for each election.

The ministry has instead been required to pays bills and release funds for individual requests after having reviewed if the expenditure fits the criteria of the programme.

Following yesterday’s second EC advisory committee meeting in preparations for the March vote, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said that the commission owed MVR12 million in pending bills after delays at the Finance Ministry.

A ministry official explained to Minivan News that, if the ministry is convinced the money is required for elections, there will not be any restrictions in releasing the funds. Though the decision was made at policy level, he acknowledged that  it might have been due to budget shortages.

EC President Fuwad Thowfeek has said that, even with these difficulties, the commission is able to mange the expenditures with cooperation from the ministry.

“We are managing. I can assure that these restrictions will not obstruct the election. It will be carried out as planned,” said Thowfeek.
Fuwad was also of the view that the restrictions could be the result of budget shortage.

“Now we are using the office budget mostly. But the Finance Ministry is releasing funds as we spend,” he noted.

Meanwhile, the parliament’s government accountability committee is planning to question the finance ministry regarding the issue. A committee member confirmed today that a request has been made.

The EC is currently on trial at the Supreme Court on contempt charges. After using newly introduced procedures to both initiate and oversee contempt of court charges against the EC, the court has subsequently deemed privileged Majlis testimony to be admissible in the case.

The EU, the Maldivian Democratic Party, and local civil society groups have all expressed concern over the case’s effect of the EC’s independence ahead of the March 22 Majlis elections.

The commission members have now been asked to attend the Supreme Court this Saturday (March 1) at 1:30pm to sign their statements.


Supreme Court election guidelines will constrain local council polls: EC

The Supreme Court’s guidelines dictating the electoral process will present “many challenges” in the local council elections scheduled for January 18, Elections Commission Vice President Ahmed Fayaz has said.

The Supreme Court annulling the first round of presidential elections held on September 7 delineated 16 guidelines including obtaining candidate’s signatures on the voter registry, fingerprinted re-registration forms for voters who wish to vote in a location other than their home islands, and police support in transporting ballot boxes and papers.

The EC has previously criticized the guidelines for limiting the powers of the independent state institutions and said the clause stipulating candidate’s signatures on voter lists effectively gives veto power over elections to candidates.

The EC was forced to call off elections scheduled for October 19 when the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and Jumhoree Party (JP) refused to sign the voter registry and the police withdrew support in dispatching of ballot boxes and papers to polling stations and obstructed any EC staff from leaving the commission’s offices with any documents.

Fayaz said over 4000 candidates would contest in the local council elections and obtaining their signatures on the voter registry would be the biggest challenge.

However, the EC will continue to adhere to the guidelines as in the past, Fayaz said.

The EC has called for candidates to submit applications between November 25 and December 8.

Candidates must only hold Maldivian citizenship, and be of the Sunni Muslim faith. Full time students or any individual convicted of child abuse or rape or decreed debt cannot stand for local councils.

Local government in the Maldives is a two-tier system, comprising island councils and city councils, which are all accountable to an atoll council.

Every inhabited island in the Maldives – except islands where city councils are established – is governed by an elected island council. City councils are established on islands that have a population over 25,000 people

Island with a population less than 3000 elect five members, those with populations from 3000- 10000 elect seven members and those with populations over 10,000 elect nine members for the councils.

Elections will be held for two city councils in Malé and Addu cities, 20 atoll councils and 66 island councils. There are 17 city council seats for Malé and Addu, 132 atoll council seats and 942 island council seats.

Each island council also has a women’s development committee to advise the island on key women’s issues.

The 2014 polls will be the country’s second attempt at local council elections. The first polls were held in February 2011 and saw a turnout of 70 percent.

The Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) won a majority of the atoll and island councils while the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) took the majority of seats for every major population center.

The councils have the power to charge fees or rents for the services they provide and are allocated funds from the state reserves for office administration, provision or services and development projects.

City and island councils’ responsibilities include providing roads, waste disposal, pest control, water, electricity and sewage systems, primary health care, pre school education, and educational and vocational programs for adults.


EC maintains impossibility of expedited election after government request

Elections Commission (EC) President Fuwad Thowfeek has told Minivan News he does not believe it is possible to expedite the fresh round of presidential elections – currently scheduled for November 9 – despite requests to do so from the government and the three presidential candidates.

The candidates held a meeting on Sunday evening, agreeing to ask the EC for a November 2 poll. The EC, however, rejected the request stating that the commission does not have the facilities to do so in such a short period of time.

Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen held discussions with the EC today (October 29), requesting – on behalf of the government – that the election date be brought forward.

Meeting at the EC offices, in addition to asking for an expedited poll, Waheed Deen enquired as to whether the EC needed further support to go forward with early elections.

“I have come here today to ask the EC what the government can do for them, whether we need to empty out some state institutions and give the EC extra space, or find more staff members for them,” Waheed Deen is quoted as saying to local media.

The Vice President is further quoted as saying that the commission members came across as being “very positive” in today’s meeting, and that they would get back to the government “very soon” with a list of what they require.

Waheed Deen further said that although he understands that there are some difficulties in bringing the polling date ahead from November 9th to the 2nd, he believed that it is possible to hold elections “somewhere around the 5th”.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad told Minivan News today that he has not received any information on the matter.

Earlier this afternoon, he was quoted in local media as confirming that the government had decided to give all possible assistance to the EC to speed up the preparations.

Masood was further quoted as saying that the government would like elections to be held in a manner which is in the best interests of the nation and to elect a president by November 11.

Earlier poll impossible, regardless of additional resources: Thowfeek

EC President Fuwad Thowfeek, however, feels that there is no possibility of bringing the date forward regardless of the support promised.

“In today’s meeting, we did provide them with all possible information that they requested for. However, since this is something we do together with the citizens, I do not believe it will be possible to bring the polling date forward, despite the offer to provide us with more resources, funds, equipment or manpower,” Fuwad told Minivan News today.

The EC announced November 9 as the date for a fresh first round of elections after the police forcibly brought a Supreme Court ordered re-vote to a halt on October 19.

The commission said then at the timea that if a second round was necessary, it would be held on November 16, 5 days after the date constitutionally mandated date for the swearing in of a new elected president.

At the time, EC President Fuwad Thowfeek said that the commission had held discussions with the president, the cabinet, and political parties on the earliest possible date for a new election before deciding on the date.

“We have said, when we get to a certain point, when a certain party doesn’t do what they must do, it should not affect the entire election. If that is the case, we will never be able to hold an election,” he said then, referring to the police obstruction of polls after Progressive Party of Maldives candidate Abdulla Yameen and Jumhooree coalition candidate Gasim Ibrahim failed to sign on the voters’ registry as mandated by the Supreme Court’s 16 point guideline.

“They assured us that they will not allow for these kind of obstructions in the upcoming election. Ministers have given us commitment that they will find a solution and facilitate this. That is why we have started work again.”


Elections Commission dismisses concerns of JP, PPM over use of Indian IT staff

The Elections Commission (EC) has dismissed fears foreign nationals will have access to the country’s voter database for upcoming polling, as it seeks assistance from Indian IT professionals to set up software to help oversee future council elections.

EC President Fuwad Thowfeek said he had met this week met with a “combined team” representing the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and Jumhoree Party (JP) to dismissed their fears that foreign IT workers would be given access to information related to next month’s scheduled election.

“We explained to them that the Indian team would not be working on systems being used for the upcoming presidential election. They will instead be providing assistance to help develop a program for future elections,” he said.

Local media reported today that the PPM and JP had challenged the possibility of holding free and fair elections scheduled for September 7 this year if foreigners could access the electoral database and other systems.

However the EC has moved to dismiss any fears, adding that it only local EC staff had access to sensitive information and the commission’s security systems.

Despite having initially sought local IT professionals for the project, Thowfeek said it had not been possible to find Maldivians with either the programming skills required for the project, or those willing to work within the budget assigned for the project.

“Firms presently operating in Male’ demanded much higher rates to oversee the project,” he added.

Thowfeek said he was surprised by the concerns of the government-aligned parties, given the large number of state bodies and institutions dependent on foreign expertise and assistance.

“This would not be the first time the EC or the government has accepted assistance from friendly nations. For instance the defence ministry has been getting assistance from the US, while police are given a wide variety of training from numerous international bodies,” he said.

“There is no reason why political parties should be worried [about foreign nationals being given access to EC data]. We are fully committed to free elections and remain answerable to the parliament. We will oversee this election with caution and confidence.”

The government is presently considering introducing a border control system provided free of charge by the US government, after this week terminating a contract signed in 2010 with Malaysia-based IT group Nexbis to install similar technology.

Thowfeek added that the EC had traditionally enjoyed a close relationship with its Indian counterpart, particularly for training of its staff abroad on overseeing electoral processes. He said a total of 20 Maldivian staff had received training last year relating to good practice in overseeing voting.

Both the Indian Elections Commission, as well as observers from several EU and Commonwealth nations will be coming to the Maldives to oversee next month’s vote.

“Complex” council elections

According to Thowfeek, the Indian programmers brought over to the Maldives to work with the EC had been hired specifically to develop a computerised system to help monitor future atoll and island council elections.

He said that with some 190 separate island constituencies, two city councils and 20 individual atoll councils, previous voting had presented complex challenges for the EC to overcome – despite the polls seen as credible by observers and local parties.

Based on the EC’s experience of overseeing the last council elections in February 2011, Thowfeek said it would be preferable to commence work on a computer system that could identify the exact number of ballot papers for each specific constituency around the Maldives.

“There are over 200 ballot papers required during a council election, so we are looking for a system that can send the appropriate data [to these islands],” he said.

The proposed system is expected to allow registered Maldives nationals to vote for the council of their respective home island from anywhere in the country, without the need to return to that particular constituency to vote.”

Party concerns

The EC has sought to reassure concerns from assorted political parties this week over the credibility of the upcoming polls.

On Monday (August 5), the EC rejected any possibility that the identities of deceased citizens could be used to fraudulently vote in the upcoming election, after opposition allegations that security forces were seeking to influence polling by misusing such data.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has continued to accuse both the government and senior police officials of trying to undermine free and fair elections, accusing police of actively seeking deceased lists detailing the country’s deceased in an attempts to try and rig voting.

Police later rejected the allegations, with the EC stating that it would not be possible to vote using details of the deceased.

Meanwhile late last month the EC rejected calls by the PPM to make voter registration more “lenient”, with Thowfeek claiming efforts were being stepped up to prevent voter registry fraud, while also dealing with challenges that arose during the country’s first multi-party election in 2008.

“We have worked to rectify these mistakes and in the last council elections there were hardly any complaints raised with us by political parties,” he said at the time. “More than that, we have worked hard this year to get the registry up to date.”


Election Commission to establish units in Maldives atolls

Election Commission (EC) units manned by permanent staff are to be established in every atoll in the Maldives, local media has reported.

EC member Ali Mohamed Manik told local media that the units are to be established in 20 Atolls and that three members of staff will be employed at 13 of the 20 units.

While one assistant director and two other staff members will be employed at each of the 13 units, the remaining seven will only have an admin officer and an office assistant due to a lack of funds.

According to local media, the units are to be located at the atoll capital’s council offices, with five Atoll offices having confirmed availability of space for establishing the units.

EC President Fuad Thaufeeg told local media that the main task of the employees at the units would be to maintain the Atoll registries as efficiently as possible.

“We have difficulties in obtaining information, especially related to deaths. They would remove those people from the list. They would also work with preparing and holding by-elections,” Thaufeeq was quoted as saying by Sun Online.


Director General of Elections Commission sacked “without warning”

Director general of the Elections Commission (EC), Mohamed Tholal, has been dismissed without warning, reports Sun Online.

It has been reported that Tholal was informed his association with the Athletics Association, for which he receives no salary, was cited as the reason for his dismissal.

Secretary General of Elections Commission, Asim Abdul Sattar, told Sun that Tholal’s dismissal had been in line with EC regulations.

Tholal himself is reported to have Tweeted on the subject: “The reason for my dismissal is to retaliate because we protested, and also because votes cannot be rigged at 2013 Elections if we are there.”

Tholal’s dismissal comes as the country’s independent institutions come under increasing scrutiny as additional pressure is placed upon them following the fallout from the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI).


Former MDP leader shaping new political party

The former Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) president, Dr Mohamed Munawwar, appears set to helm a new political party within the Maldives after submitting 3258 names to the Elections Commission for registration, Miadhu has reported.

Under the name of the Maldives Reform Movement, Dr Munawwar has claimed the new party is expected to be represented by young Maldivians, adding that no “famous” political figures have yet to join with him.

Elections Commissioner Fuad Thaufeeq has said that time would be needed to process and verify the 3258 names it had been presented, Maidhu added. Under Commission regulations, a party must have 3000 available members to be considered for official registration