The Elections Commission (EC) has unveiled new regulations for the presidential election set for September 7 this year, claiming “comprehensive changes” have been made to the legal framework used five years ago.
EC Vice President Ahmed Fayaz told Minivan News that the latest regulations were drawn up with consultation from political parties and NGOs – providing more than just a “cosmetic change” to the framework used for the country’s first ever multi-party democratic elections in 2008.
Both opposition and government-aligned parties competing directly against President Dr Mohamed Waheed in September have alleged that even with new regulations in place, there were concerns that the incumbent was using state resources unconstitutionally to unfairly influence voters.
The allegations have been denied by the President’s Office, which maintains that it has done nothing to try and unfairly influence voters.
EC Vice President Fayaz said that despite the allegations raised by various parties this week, the commission was “very optimistic” about its ability to ensure elections were free and fair in September with the new presidential election regulations – said to have undergone drastic changes since 2008.
“The 2008 regulation was actually formatted in a rush and the EC was given about 60 days to do its work,” he said of the legal outline used for the last presidential election. “From the feedback we have received [regarding the new election regulation] nobody has said that they were bad,” he claimed.
The Regulation on the Presidential Election was published online Monday (May 20) in the Government Gazette.
Fayaz added that the EC had so far received “no formal complaints” from political parties in the country regarding concerns that September’s elections would not be free and fair.
Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said he had not personally had chance to review the new regulations for September’s election at present.
Ghafoor said that despite concerns about the functioning of the country’s independent institutions, the MDP had been “comfortable” with the ongoing work of the EC.
Yet no matter how comprehensive the new elections regulation for September’s vote was, he said MDP continued to hold concerns that credible elections were being undermined by both the recent conduct of the government and the country’s police and security forces.
Ghafoor claimed that party fear’s were partly based around the recent conduct of police around the country, as well as ongoing concerns raised by both the party and independent experts over the independence of country’s judiciary, as well as its watchdog body, the Judicial Services Commission (JSC).
Meanwhile, the Maldives’ Police Service has previously denied arresting approximately 50 people – primarily MDP supporters – the night prior to President Mohamed Waheed’s arrival in Addu City on May 8.
Addu City Mayor Abdulla Sodig told Minivan News that before Waheed’s arrival, close to 50 people were arrested, “and about 90 percent of those taken in were MDP supporters”.
These arrests were made under the “’Our Peaceful Addu City” operation, which the police have said was established to make the atoll “crime free”.
Ghafoor also leveled criticisms at President Waheed directly, accusing him of unconstitutionally spending state fund on his own campaigning, while also making development pledges not included within budgeted funds during recent tours of the country.
He also pointed the centralised utilities ‘Fenaka’ corporation that was formed last June as an example of President Waheed’s use of government-owned enterprise to provide his own supporters with jobs.
“We have seen this government rape institutions like the police and state companies for their own political ends,” Ghafoor claimed. “These are unconstitutional actions we are seeing by the state.”
MP Abdulla Yameen, presidential candidate for the government-aligned PPM, this week told local media that he understood “concerns” raised by MDP candidate Mohamed Nasheed regarding President Waheed’s use of state resources for campaigning.
“That is, the way [the government] is doing things, there are problems over whether we could reach free and fair elections. The Auditor General and ACC [Anti-Corruption Commission] have taken note of this,” Yameen told local media.
While accepting an incumbent would have advantages for campaigning while in power, Yameen called on the government to consult with the Auditor General’s Office and ACC to put rules in place for campaigning within legal bounds and in line with the principles of good governance.
The PPM parliamentary group leader also criticised the government’s decision to sack Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed from his position of home minister following his decision to stand against President Waheed as Yameen’s running mate.
The government at the time cited Dr Jameel’s decision to stand as Yameen’s running mate as representing a conflict of interest, claiming any other cabinet minister standing directly against Dr Waheed would also have to be dismissed ahead of September’s voting.
Cabinet ministers in a coalition government are not obliged to assist the president’s election campaign, Yameen added this week.
He also claimed that PPM has not been given the number of government posts promised by Dr Waheed more than a year ago with the formation of the coalition government.
Former Home Minister Dr Jameel, meanwhile said he believed that appointments to government posts and creation of government-owned companies ahead of the election was intended to influence the outcome.
The President’s Office has rejected allegations that the government was working to exert undue influence on voters through state resources or funds, accusing both the MDP and PPM of making allegations without any evidence.
President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said that politicians seeking to run for office should therefore act responsibly and avoid making baseless accusations against the government.
“I will say on the record that we are not engaged in any activity that would give us an unfair advantage [in September’s election],” he said.
Responding directly to the MDP’s allegations that the state were using government-owned bodies such as the Fenaka Corporation to gain political influence, Masood claimed that the company was presently headed by a PPM member, leaving president Waheed’s Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP) with little influence to do so.
“Fenaka has much more PPM and MDP members working for it than it does GIP supporters,” he said. “Fenaka is headed up by a PPM member, so we do not have any control over this. We do already have difficulty with GIP members ringing us up and asking for jobs,” he said,
Masood concluded that President Waheed had done nothing to exert his influence on voters, claiming appointments made to state institutions following the controversial transfer of power remaining almost unchanged since they were formed under the present administration.