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.


Elections Commission deputy backs dropping fingerprinting for party membership applications

A decision by Parliament’s Independent Institutions Committee to cease requiring fingerprints on political party application forms has been welcomed by Vice President of Elections Commission (EC) Ahmed Fayaz, who downplayed concerns over the potential for future membership fraud.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Fayaz stressed that the EC would not be officially commenting on the parliamentary commission’s decision yesterday until speaking with various party leaders. However, he claimed that he personally believed the Majlis recommendation to discontinue the use of fingerprints would make the system of membership applications more efficient and easier for both the EC and political parties.

Announcing the decision yesterday to recommend an end to fingerprinting, the Independent Institutions Committee members questioned the efficiency of such technology, arguing that no mechanism or database presently existed in the Maldives that could store the required amounts of information.

Nonetheless, local NGO the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) told Minivan News that while it was unsure of the efficiency of the EC’s fingerprint system, fraudulent membership registration for Maldivian political parties remained a significant problem that needed to be addressed. MDN claimed that alternative methods of party member verification should now be sought by parliament and the EC.

Fayaz responded that under regulations adopted in 2005, political parties had not been requested to submit membership forms to the EC. Instead, he said they have been required every three months to produce a list of their members including names and their ID number.

“When these lists are sent, these members should not be registered with other political parties,” he said. “[Parties] must check for themselves that these members are genuine.”

Fayaz said he believed that the present system of checking party membership lists every three months left little room for “fraud” within the system. He claimed therefore that a larger issue facing party membership rather than fraud was the state system of giving payments to parties on the basis of which group had the largest number of followers.

Fayaz accepted that the use of a verification system “like fingerprinting” could help stop possible fraud within party memberships, particularly in the case of people charged with recruiting members for the country’s political parties.

“I think some of the people doing recruiting [for parties] may in cases go beyond the rules,” he said, noting that there had been an improvement in following regulations in recent years.

Upon taking his oath of office along with current EC President Fuad Thaufeeq back in 2009, Fayaz claimed they had discovered “a culture” at the commission where regulations were often not being followed as required under laws outlining political party memberships.

“Perhaps under pressure from political parties there was a regulation where membership lists were not being checked every quarter,” he added, claiming that regulations were now being upheld up by the EC.

Speaking to Minivan News yesterday, MDN Executive Director Humaida Abdul Gafoor said the NGO was extremely concerned at ongoing cases of members being signed up to parties fraudulently.

“Often, people are not aware they have been signed up,” she stated. “It is imperative that it is down to an individual to decide which party they want to belong to and no one else.”

Humaida Abdul Gafoor said it was vital that some form of verification mechanism was in place to ensure party memberships were genuine, adding that a bigger issue facing the committee was in finding alternatives to the fingerprint technology, rather than simply halting it.

“We don’t know if the EC’s adoption of fingerprinting was a move in the right direction in first place,” she added.

System criticism

Explaining the decision to discontinue the EC’s request for fingerprints, Deputy Chairman of the Independent Institutions Committee, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Sameer, said that the Maldives did not presently have a mechanism or system to collect and store such information.

“In regards to issues with the fingerprinting system, the EC, Department of National Registration and the Maldives Police Service all agreed they didn’t have enough records or verification systems available,” he told Minivan News.

One ongoing critic of the EC’s fingerprint system is MP Ahmed Mahloof of the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

Back in September, Mahloof alleged via local media that close to 8000 membership forms from his party have been rejected by the Elections Commission (EC) – mainly due to the quality of fingerprints appearing on the forms.

The MP claimed that the fingerprint issue had arisen because the EC did not have sufficiently modern machinery to look at the fingerprints, relying instead on the perception of its staff – drastically limiting memberships numbers for the party.

A spokesperson for the EC told Minivan News at the time that similar complaints had been received from other political parties including the Jumhoree Party (JP), Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP), and the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

PPM MP Mahloof, DRP chief Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and DQP Leader Dr Hassan Saeed were not responding to phone calls by Minivan News at the time of going to press.