Midnight ruling from Supreme Court orders EC to address candidate’s concerns over fingerprint verification

The Supreme Court opened at midnight again on Sunday October 13 to order the Elections Commission (EC) to address the complaints of any individual who has the right to stand for election, “including the verification of fingerprints on re-registration forms through the Department of National Registration.”

Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) candidate Abdulla Yameen earlier told newspaper Haveeru that it “would be hard” for him to approve the voter registry – another recent requirement from the Supreme Court – should the EC not verify fingerprints.

The Supreme Court previously opened at midnight on Thursday October 10 to order the Elections Commission to restart from scratch the process of re-registering an estimated 65,000 voters wishing to vote at a location other than their home island.

The Court had annulled the first round of polling shortly before midnight only several days prior on October 7, ordering the Elections Commission to hold polls before October 20.

Following the order for the re-registration process to be repeated, parties worked throughout the short, 24 hour window to try and re-register as many people as possible using the new fingerprint forms.

While police routinely fingerprint those arrested and the Department of National Registration (DNR) fingerprints those issued new ID cards, no institution in the Maldives has the capacity to verify fingerprints on the scale of a national presidential election.

“[The Supreme Court] orders the Elections Commission and relevant state institutions to implement guidelines outlined in Supreme Court verdict 2013/SC-C/42 in the manner stated in the guidelines, with the support and participation of relevant state institutions, presidential candidates or their representatives [to ensure elections proceed] as per Article 170 (a) of the constitution without undue influence, freely and fairly and transparently, and hence if any individual who has right to stand for election has any complaints, including the verification of fingerprints on re-registration forms through the Department of National Registration [the Elections Commission and all relevant state institutions must] ensure such complaints are addressed,” read the Supreme Court’s latest order.

Jumhoree Party (JP) running mate Dr Hassan Saeed, whose party filed the petition that would annul the first round after placing third, was reported by local media as acknowledging that it would be “impossible to verify every single fingerprint.”

“The Maldives does not have the facilities to do so yet. It is not good to demand such a thing when the Supreme Court has specified a timeline and when there are no resources to do so,” Dr Saeed told a press conference.

The MDP derided the previous demand to redo the voter re-registration process as a “cynical attempt by the PPM and the Supreme Court to prevent elections from taking place next week.”

“The MDP is extremely concerned that the Supreme Court is interfering in the electoral process for political reasons, issuing unconstitutional rulings and acting with impunity,” said the party in an earlier statement.

“The PPM is running scared of the voters because they know they will lose a free and fair election, and the Supreme Court is facilitating the subversion of the democratic process,” said the party’s spokesperson, MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.

The previous voter registry was praised by local and international election observers but was thrown out by a 4:3 Supreme Court majority due to 5600 irregularities raised in a secret police report not shared with the EC’s defence lawyers.

The 17 member Commonwealth election observation team in particular praised the orginial voter registry, describing it as “accurate and robust”.

“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, based on the low incidence of election day complaints,” said the group’s head, former Prime Minister of Malta Dr Lawrence Gonzi, following the September 7 poll.

US “deeply concerned” about legal action delaying election

The United States has meanwhile said it is “deeply concerned” about continued legal actions “that could further delay the Maldivian presidential election”.

That statement was issued following the Supreme Court’s order – in response to a petition from the PPM – to redo the entire voter re-registration process.

Earlier in same day the PPM had sought to file another petition to bar former President Mohamed Nasheed from the polls on the grounds of him being “irreligious” and critical of the judiciary, although this appeared to stall later the same day following dissent within the party.

“It is important that the [election] go forward unimpeded in a fair, inclusive and transparent way,” said Deputy Spokesperson for the US State Department, Marie Harf, in a statement.

“The basis of any democracy is for citizens to choose their government, for political differences to be decided at the ballot box in an environment free of violence and for election results to be respected,

“We continue to urge a peaceful political process that is inclusive of all candidates in order to ensure the Maldivian election that will meet international standards of an elected, legitimate democracy,” the statement concluded.

The US statement followed UK Foreign Secretary William Hague’s urging of presidential candidates “to act in line with the interests of the people of Maldives”.

“It is imperative that there are no further delays and the elections be free, fair and inclusive, and that international observers are invited,” the UK Foreign Secretary said.