Q&A: Elections Commission Chairperson Fuwad Thowfeek

The 2013 Maldives presidential election is set to occur amid the political polarisation and institutional mistrust that has escalated since the controversial transition of power in February 2012.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) maintain that a coup d’etat had been orchestrated by loyalists to the former 30-year autocratic ruler President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and led by mutinying police and military officers. This was followed by the security services’ crackdown on demonstrators, months of MDP protests, and demands for early elections, as well as fears the judiciary may prevent Nasheed from contesting.

With the Maldives’ presidential election taking place on September 7, there is considerable national and international pressure on the Elections Commission to deliver. Minivan News discusses some of these key elections issues with Fuwad Thowfeek, Chairperson of the country’s first independent Elections Commission (EC), established on November 24, 2009.

The role of security services…

Leah R Malone: Is the Elections Commission (EC) document outlining the Maldives Police Service (MPS) elections mandate available?

Fuwad Thowfeek: For every election since 2008, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed between the Elections Commission and the police service. The same document – containing more or less the same content – will be prepared and signed between the MPS and EC indicating the election duties of both institutions – when we need their services, how to approach them, what they will do for us, how we will greet them, etc. This type of understanding is there, it will help both institutions to stick to our duties.

Both institutions agreed on the prepared draft more than two weeks ago, it just needs to be finalized and signed. It’s very close to ready now. Because we have so much other work pending, and our deadlines are reaching, priority has been given to other activities, but very soon we will sign this.

LRM: Was the EC notified regarding MPS ‘Operation Blue Waves’? Were the parameters of the operation developed in collaboration with the EC?

FT: Yes, it will be our MoU in their mind. They gave us information that they will be having this operation and expressed the activities that they will be undertaking with our knowledge.

We’ve had a number of meetings with the MPS and even on our advisory committee we have an assistant commissioner of police who was present at all of our meetings. We’ve also had meetings with other branches of the police service – we are very much in contact with each other.

LRM: The MPS website states that the operational priority for ‘Operation Blue Waves’ includes “stopping campaign members from breaking any campaign laws” – is that an appropriate rule for the police to be enforcing, or should this fall within the purview of the EC?

FT: If anybody does anything that constitutes any criminal act the police are entitled to stop that activity, whether it is related to elections or otherwise. But we have not yet requested police to stop any [campaign activities].

If there are any complaints we give the specific details of that place and information to the police, and we request them to take actions according to the legal framework they have. [Stopping campaign activities is] not something specifically requested of the police [by the EC], but because the legal framework allows them to address any kind of law that’s being breached, if they’re choosing to focus on that, it’s still within their jurisdiction.

Almost the whole country is working on campaigning… We don’t request anybody to just focus [on those activities] to see if there’s anything going wrong. If anybody reports [complaints] to us then we request the police to look into it. That is our main target, not to look for any crimes, just to see how the things are going on.

LRM: The MPS has stated that police will remain 100 feet away from voting centres in “normal situations”. What will happen in an ‘abnormal’ situation? If a polling station head does request the MPS enter in the event of a disturbance, what is the protocol, how soon would they need to leave the polling station?

FT: If there is any disturbance on the day of voting, first the elections officials will try to control the situation. If the officials are unable to control it, then we will request the police to come in and take the person away from that ballot box area. In that case, once he or she or the group is taken out of that area, activities will again resume.

LRM: In July, former President Nasheed voiced concerns that police would try to influence the election by having individuals create a disturbances as a pretext for police officers entering the polling station. Additionally, Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen has recently said that disturbances are likely on election day.

What type of training have the polling station heads received to address these kinds of situations? If the polling station head is a younger individual, are they going to have the authority to actually stand up to a Special Operations (SO) officer – particularly in the more disputed areas where there’s anticipated tension, such as Addu City, Thinadhoo [Gaafu Dhaal Atoll], Kulhudhuffushi [Haa Dhaal Atoll], and/or Male’?

FT: First, we have given a 10 day training to the trainers, which was completed last week. We trained 77 trainers. They will be going out to all the atolls and giving two day trainings to the polling officials. The two day training will be good enough for them to understand all the laws, rules, regulations, and procedures of the polling activities.

In each polling station there will be at least seven to ten officials and about 50 percent will have experience with previous elections. The head of the polling station will be responsible for the whole team and, on behalf of the team, the head of the polling station will make all the decisions, and even if required will call for police assistance. In the polling stations we will have young [EC] officials, but the polling station heads will be experienced officials over 30 years-old. But we are trying to place people over 35 years of age as head of each polling station. In general, we are trying to employ people with previous elections experience, [who are] not very young. We always prefer to take people, if available, above 30 years of age. In cases where we don’t get enough officials, then we go for some younger adults, but mostly you will find the average age is over 30 years.

LRM: What should the Maldives National Defence Force’s (MNDF) elections role be? Have they been in contact with the EC or have you been coordinating more with the MPS?

FT: We are coordinating more with the police services and, even in the previous elections, we have been in touch with the police to see to the security of all the ballot boxes and polling stations. The police will seek assistance of MNDF only if they find it necessary to ask for help, but it’s very unlikely.

The security of the presidential candidates and running mates will be looked after by the MNDF. That is the only role they should be playing.

Election preparations…

LRM: Police Commissioner Riyaz recently noted that a national coordination committee has been established with representatives from different political parties and relevant institutions, so the committee can address any election issues that may arise “using diplomacy rather than out on the streets”.

Is this a committee that the EC participates in? What is the committee’s purpose?

FT: I think he was referring to the National Advisory Committee. We have in this committee a representative from each of the presidential candidates, the Maldives Police Service (MPS), the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC), the Maldives Media Council (MMC), Transparency Maldives – representing all the local civil society organisations – plus five members of the EC.

The purpose of the committee is to facilitate communication between the different institutions. The representative from each candidate or institution will take our decisions or discussions to their organisations and/or the concerned people.

LRM: How many EC staff will be placed on smaller islands during the presidential election?

FT: On every inhabited island we will have a minimum of seven EC officials at each ballot box, even if the number of people [voting] is less than 500, or even 200. In the tourist resorts and industrial islands we are planning to send five officials to each ballot box [location], because there will be an average of 200 people to vote at each ballot box. There are 700 to 1000 people expected to vote per each ballot box on the inhabited islands. In Male’ also we have 103 ballot boxes. For example, there are 48 boxes for residents of Male’ voting in Male’ and 55 for people from other atolls living in Male’.

LRM: How do you plan on coordinating elections observers from so many different institutions, including the EC, HRCM, Transparency Maldives, media, and other individuals from the Maldives and abroad?

FT: Actually, our planning section will be dealing with all the observers, monitors, and all the [election] officials. We will hold a training session  – what they can do, what they should avoid and each individual will be given a photo ID pass, so with that ID they can visit any ballot box, whether it is in Male’, Hulhumale, Villingili, even Addu or Fuvahmulah – any place depending on their need, they can go and see it.

For the coordination [of these various individuals] we will keep some special staff for that, but we don’t have much to communicate with them. Once the training session is completed, the observers and the monitors will be very sure about their roles and work. And we are going to leave them very independent actually, so that it is their duty. That makes it very easy for us as well as easy for them.

After making their observations, they write their reports, we will like to receive all the comments and remarks from all the observers. That’s something that will help to develop our process for the next election.

LRM: Why is the 2013 presidential election being held September 7, when the 2008 election was October 8?

FT: We have to follow the dates and periods given according to the constitution, the presidential elections law and also the general election law. September 7 is the first round and then in three weeks time on September 28 we have to hold the second round if nobody gets over 50 percent of the valid votes. The president will be sworn into office in November.

In 2008, it was a special period given, as noted in the constitution. [This year] if the second round is going to be on the 28 of September, one week from that date on October 4 we will be announcing the final result. There will be over one month for the elected president to prepare to take office. I think that’s good because last time the period was too short. There was not sufficient time previously between when the president was elected and then took office. [This year] it’s only one month and one week [to prepare] or even if we count the date from the preliminary result there will be just six weeks for the president to prepare to take office.

LRM: To what extent have India and the US provided elections assistance as pledged?

FT: The Indian Elections Commission mainly and also the Indian High Commission in Male’, and USAID have been assisting. Last year, two batches of 10 people each [from the EC] were given a one month training in New Delhi in their elections institution. This year also two batches of six each received training, one batch in Bangalore and one in New Delhi. In addition, two commissioners have been given the opportunity to attend an observation tour and training program.

Also, the Indian Elections Commission has provided a team of IT experts, software developers, to produce programs for various activities of the EC, like maintaining a political party register, the dispatch of voting materials, result making of the various elections, and there are many other administrative requirements. The software will make the EC’s work simpler and help to maintain very transparent records.

For example, [regarding] the local council elections and parliamentary elections, in the Maldives people can live on any island, but they will be registered mostly on the island of their birth or their parents’ island. For example, I can live on Kulhudhuffushi for any period and there can be people lets say from 150 islands living on Kulhudhuffushi too, but for the local council election, if they are from 150 different islands then 150 different types of papers should go there. Sorting this out and sending the exact number of ballots manually – according to the law we cannot send more than 1 percent of the [islands] ballot papers, unless there are 100 voters belonging to that island – is kind of a nightmare for determining the results. Last time our staff were working day and night and found it so hard to make the appropriate packets for each island. A very powerful software [program] is needed [for this] process.

It’s very difficult and complex, but the presidential election is nothing compared to this. We are very comfortable with the presidential election – it is the same ballot paper we are sending all over the country.

Political party criticisms and next steps

LRM: The PPM has claimed that the EC has not provided adequate answers to their previous complaints/enquiries, and that the upcoming presidential election is not likely to be free and fair as there is a possibility voters’ information will be altered.

How did the EC respond to their concerns previously? Was it addressed in the Advisory Committee or was it addressed separately when speaking with their party representatives?

FT: A few times they have come and met me – twice a delegation from PPM came and met me and once a delegation met the Vice Chair of the Elections Commission.

Every time we have very clearly explained everything to them, answered all their queries and gave very detailed responses to them. But there are some demands that we cannot meet. For example, one of their demands was to see our IT section. They wanted to see the hardware and software of our network system, which we cannot do and we are not ready to do for the safety and security of our system.

Other than that we have attended to almost all their requests. We have given them very detailed answers. The interesting thing is that it is the same commission, the same five members have been in this commission for the last three and a half years. I was here for the last five years, but I was the only member during the interim period that is still with the commission – I have seen the entire progression.

We conducted local council elections – which were much more complex and complicated [than the presidential election] – without any problems we managed to do it. And we have also held three parliamentary by-elections and over 20 local council by-elections. In each election or by-election there were complaints [filed], but no one has ever complained about the members of the Elections Commission. [Now] suddenly they started questioning our competence and our ability, this is very strange.

LRM: Why do you think the PPM is putting so much pressure on the EC, since the commission addressed their concerns previously? Why do you think this is happening now, with less than 20 days to the election, when there were many months to file complaints?

FT: I don’t know actually, and regarding the questions they have raised, we have given really clear answers to them. We are not hiding anything, we are very transparent. Everything has been really clearly explained, so I don’t understand. President Mohamed Waheed and President Mohamed Nasheed are very confidant in this commission, they have no complaints at all.

We don’t hesitate to answer any questions from any party, whether it’s a political party, or media, or any social club or society. We are ready to meet each and everyone. We are willing to share our knowledge and experience. That is what even we have been hearing, that the public recognises our efforts and they have confidence in us. So it is very strange that suddenly PPM has found these types of problems with us.

LRM: What is the next step the EC will take to address these issues with the PPM, particularly if they pursue legal action? Do they have any legal grounds to stand on? If they do take these issues to court, given the need for judicial reform, do you think that could be problematic for the EC to hold the presidential election?

FT: They don’t have any grounds for legal action. That is why we are very comfortable. Even if they go to court we will have no problems at all. We will clarify everything to the court.

Today (August 22) we are trying to publish our voters list according to the ballot boxes, so this will be the list that will be used on the day of voting. A copy of this list will be given to all the presidential candidates and also to the political parties that are interested in obtaining a copy of the ballot boxes with the voters list. We have so much confidence in our work – we have done really good, professional work – that we are giving it openly [to the public] to see and tell the EC if we have incorrectly listed any person in the voter registry or if any person is missing.

If anybody is missing from the list, we will very clearly tell them why the person is missing. For example, during the last two weeks, we received complaints from 17 people that they were absent from the voter list, out of 239,593 people registered to vote. Only 17 are missing out of 239,593 [only .007 percent of registered voters].

This type of accuracy is kind of a world record. For this we did so much work. We produced a list on the government gazette website, we have been talking to the media, newspapers, radio, and TV, asking people to check their names and inform the EC if anybody’s name is missing. We have made it so easy for everybody that someone can sit at home and check our website, just enter your ID card number and if your name is not there you will get a message. Or call 1414 and one of our operators will answer, or send an SMS to 1414 and you will get an automatic SMS reply, or send somebody to the EC and ask the receptionist to check for the name in the voter list.

So much work has been done, but these are 17 people that for some reason ignored or didn’t hear our calls and they just realised it when it was too late. Another reason why some of them are not recorded [in the voter register] is that a lot of people go to Sri Lanka, India, Singapore, or Malaysia for delivery. Then after the birth of the child they don’t remember to put them in the local register, so this is one reason why some names are missed. But still we said if there is a second round we are going to include these people, because they have informed us we will take the necessary steps, however for this round there is nothing we can do.

We are not the people compiling the initial register, we are getting it from the island council offices and also the Male’ City Council office. So the primary source of the [voter] list is from all the council offices, then we have to communicate with them and also we have to check it with the Department of National Registration. It’s has been very hard work over the last five year to come up with a voter registry of this standard.

LRM: Is there any additional statement you would like to make or message you would like to give Maldivian voters and/or the international community?

FT: My request is kind of an advanced request to all the voters. Today we are uploading all the voters lists for each ballot box – make sure where you are going to vote. Please check it through our website, SMS, by making a telephone call to us at 1414, or sending someone here [to the Elections Commission] to check it.

On the day of voting, we are starting at 7:30am, so go to the ballot box as early as possible so you will not be standing in the queue for long – going early will avoid delays and facilitate all the officials. If you go at the closing hour at 4pm, the queue may be too long and you will have to wait.

Regarding the international community, we want them to observe all the [election] activities including the actions at the ballot box and also in the other areas, and to express their observations very frankly and very truly. That will help us in the future and give confidence to the world as a whole regarding how the election has gone, how good or bad it was. I’m sure we will get a very good result because we have worked very hard.


Presidential election regulations unveiled as rival parties slam state commitment to free and fair polls

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 optimism

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”.

Political ends

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.”

PPM “concerns”

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.

Government response

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.


MDP willing to discuss interim government with PPM: Nasheed

Former President Mohamed Nasheed announced the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) willingness to discuss enacting an interim government with the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), which the party believes is essential for free and fair elections to occur.

The MDP has desired the establishment of an interim government since the controversial transfer of power of February 7, 2012 and is open to holding discussions with the PPM to establish a transitional government prior to September’s Presidential elections, Nasheed stated during a press conference held at the Mookai Hotel in Male’ today (May 16).

“If PPM wants to bring in an interim government, we are ready to hold discussions. MDP wants an interim government. We at MDP have always wanted an interim government. But we need support from other parties to do that in parliament. If PPM is so inclined, we are ready to hold discussions with PPM to achieve this,” Nasheed said.

“For free and fair elections [to take place], we are encouraged that PPM has pledged to stop Waheed from campaigning on state funds,” he added.

The MDP is continuing its call for the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) recommendations to be implemented, with the supervision of the international community. Nasheed stated he was disappointed CoNI recommendations have yet to be enacted – especially regarding holding to account those who mutinied against the government and committed various brutal acts, including destroying the MDP’s headquarters.

Nasheed said that the MDP did not believe free and fair elections were possible with Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz and Defence Minister Colonel (Rtd) Mohamed Nazim in their current positions, and has asked they be “transferred” from their current posts.

He distinguished between ‘rank and file’ Police Service and Maldives National Defence Force (MDNF) and their leadership. Nasheed said action should be taken against the highest ranking officers for their role on February 7.

MDP Spokesperson Mohamed Zuhair told Minivan News today that local media reports of Nasheed calling for Riyaz and Nazim to be “forcibly removed” are inaccurate, however the former President has called for their removal and transfer “as far away from their current positions as possible”.

“They are already enacting measures of intimidation under the guise of ‘coordination’ by requesting political parties give the name of a person to work with the police. The Elections Commission should be enacting such a policy, not the police. It’s very strange and highly suspicious,” said Zuhair.

Should PPM be of the same view that an interim government is necessary for credible elections to be held, MDP would work through the parliament to discuss with PPM, Zuhair explained.

“PPM’s President and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has said their party would ‘go it alone’ and not form a coalition, because that would not allow policies to be implemented effectively. Then the natural next step [for the PPM] would be to gain parliamentary support from the only player able to give support, MDP,” said Zuhair.

PPM Spokesperson and MP Ahmed Nihan today rejected the likelihood of the government-aligned party working with the opposition MDP to remove President Waheed from office ahead of elections in September.

“I do not believe this is a possibility. If it was possible, we would have done this already I believe,” he said.

Nihan claimed that the PPM’s main concern at present was for free and fair elections to take place. However, he added that with the Commonwealth-backed CoNI concluding that President Waheed’s coalition government – which includes the PPM – had come to power legitimately, it would not back the MDP’s calls for the present administration to be removed.

Nihan added that, while continuing to support the present coalition government, many PPM supporters believed that the party presently represented one of only two political ideologies in the country. These philosophies he said were those of PPM founder former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and former President Nasheed and the MDP.

Nihan claimed that the majority of the country’s smaller parties, including those choosing to side with President Waheed in a pre-election coalition, were all rooted to former President Gayoom and his “political wisdom”.

“Strange bedfellows”

Nasheed also addressed the recent addition of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) to the President Mohamed Hassan Manik’s coalition – which includes his Gaumee Ittihad Party (GIP) and the Adhaalath Party (AP) – and it’s incompatibility with a democratic presidential system of governance.

Nasheed expressed his happiness about Gayoom’s statement that coalitions do not work because they are not in line with a presidential governing system and are instead more reflective of a parliamentary system.

“I am very happy that President Gayoom – [who is] no doubt is the most experienced political leader [in the nation] – has been very clear about how inefficient for democratic policies the formation of coalitions are in a presidential system,” said Nasheed.

Nasheed noted that the Adhaalath Party and Sheiks’ extremist views will pose difficulties for the GIP-led coalition. Although the DRP are billing themselves as a moderate party, they will not establish the national ‘bastion of tolerance’ they claim to be purporting, Nasheed said.

The former President believes the coalition is a “hodgepodge” mix of ideologies, not politics and these “strange bedfellows” cannot achieve anything.

DRP disintegration

Nasheed stated that the alliance between GIP and DRP is only agreement between the two individual and not reflective of grassroots DRP supporters. He believes that DRP leader Thasmeen Ali and Waheed had no other choice and formed the coalition out of sheer necessity.

He also stated that the recent coalition has not produced a “third ideology” and that only two ideologies exist in the Maldives.

During door to door campaigning, the MDP has noticed that DRP grassroots support is disintegrating. They are either merging with PPM or joining MDP, according to MDP Press Director Mohamed Zuhair.

Additionally, Zuhair discussed the distinction President Nasheed made between other parties and MDP. He highlighted that MDP policies are formulated by consulting every household to asses the Maldivian people’s needs. This is followed by holding consultative seminars, with the feedback passed to the party’s ‘organs’ for discussion, then to policy committees, with the process culminating in an announcement.

“None of the other parties have this method,” said Zuhair.

“So far three policies have been announced, and the fourth – agrobusiness – will be announced tomorrow,” he continued.

“MDP is focusing on policy issues, having to ‘go out on the road’ and stage protests to ensure free and fair elections will change the entire dynamics of the campaign. We are hoping it doesn’t come to that,” said Zuhair.


Civil society groups slam government for “failure to ensure conducive environment for elections”

Prominent NGOs have released a joint human rights brief accusing the Maldivian government of failing to create conditions conducive to free and fair elections, ahead of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meeting to be held in London this Friday.

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) reported that with less than six months before the presidential elections “there are clear signs indicating that the coalition government in power since February 2012 has so far failed to set the conditions for free and fair elections in which ‘all parties and leaders are able freely to conduct election campaigns’.”

“The most critical matter in this regard is the continued interference of the executive on other branches of power, as manifested by the trial of several opposition members to prevent the opposition from running in the upcoming elections,” the brief reads.

Authorities have both failed to ensure a ‘free and fair’ atmosphere with respect to freedom of information or freedom to assembly, as well as made no efforts to inform and educate voters on electoral rights and responsibilities, the report claims.

FIDH and MDN highlight that promoting and protecting human rights has suffered from a “substantial lack of progress” and that a “culture of impunity for perpetrators of past human rights violations” has been institutionalised.

While “human rights abuses reduced drastically” following former President Mohamed Nasheed’s election in 2008, past and present police brutality, torture and impunity have gone unaddressed, states the brief.

Institutions such as the Police Integrity Commission (PIC), the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), and a Presidential Commission – created in 2009 and disbanded in 2012 – failed to investigate and address human rights abuses, including torture committed by the police services, given their limited mandates.

“The coalition government established in February 2012 has been accused of a wide range of human rights violations, from violent repression of street protests, arbitrary arrests, sexual harassment of female protesters, torture, harassment of pro-opposition media, to legal and physical harassment of members of the opposition,” states the brief.

“Since the HRCM made public its reports on these allegations in August 2012, no action has been taken for investigation or redress,” the brief continues.

Systematic omissions have been identified in the the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) “serious enough to raise fundamental questions about the accuracy of the report’s conclusions.” Furthermore, recommendations made by the CoNI on August 30, 2012 regarding human rights abuses, torture, and impunity “were immediately dismissed by senior government officials; this could only encourage the security forces to disregard the rule of law and commit further human rights abuses in impunity,” the brief reads.

“Uncertainties” have caused a “new phase of slowdown” in the country’s legal reform process as well.

“Women have suffered and still suffer from the absence of a strong legal framework… and women’s rights remain at risk of being curbed by religious parties influencing the governing coalition and pushing for the full implementation of Sharia,” the report states.

Rising tensions regarding interpretations of Islam is “particularly an area of concern” given the “fundamental views being introduced by the Adalath party and some religious groups, mainly those that are being linked with Shari’a and harsh punishments,” claims the brief.

“Bearing in mind that there is absolutely no public trust in the judiciary to have the capacity to deliver justice under these circumstances, those critical of these [religious] interpretations have faced violent consequences,” reads the brief. “To date, there are no reports of an investigation or any on-going effort to find the perpetrators of these crimes [of murder and attempted murder].”

Following Nasheed’s claim he was deposed in a coup d’état, the Commonwealth suspended the Maldives from the CMAG, and said it had decided to place the Maldives on its formal agenda in February 2012 because of “questions that remain about the precise circumstances of the change of government, as well as the fragility of the situation in the Maldives.”

In September 2012, CMAG decided the Maldives would remain on the agenda under the item “Matters of Interest to CMAG”, however its suspension from the international body’s democracy and human rights arm has now been revoked.

CMAG recommendations

FIDH and MDN emphasised that the newly reformed CMAG mandate includes “situations that might be regarded as constituting a serious or persistent violation of Commonwealth values”, and the “systematic denial of political space, such as through detention of political leaders or restriction of freedom of association, assembly or expression.”

“These situations have continuously characterised the political environment of the Maldives especially since the change of power of 7 February 2012.”

FIDH and MDN provided CMAG with five key recommendations in regard to the deteriorating human rights situation in the Maldives.

They compelled CMAG to raise concerns regarding human rights violations in the Maldives, especially allegations of police brutality and torture, and request government authorities take all necessary measures to prevent violence, respect the due process of law and prevent arbitrary arrests.

A review of CMAG’s position on CoNI report should be conducted, especially in reference to “later developments”.

CMAG should also advocate for the preservation and consolidation of democratic achievements and take all necessary steps to guarantee the conditions for free, fair and inclusive elections in September 2013.

Providing technical assistance to the Maldives’ government is recommended. This is necessary to strengthen the rule of law and support the development of public institutions, in particular the judiciary, as well as independent commissions such as the HRCM, the PIC, and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

Finally, provide support to civil society organizations to raise public awareness about the role of public institutions and the importance of separation of powers, develop human rights education programs, and play a key role monitoring democratic and independent institution building.

Maldivian government recommendations

FIDH and MDN also provided the Maldivian government with a list of 11 recommendations to improve the country’s human rights failures.

This includes strengthening independent commissions, such as the PIC, JSC, and HRCM, in accordance with CoNI report recommendations. Reforming the judiciary should also be prioritized.

The physical and psychological integrity of human rights defenders, journalists and members of the opposition must be also guaranteed in all circumstances.

Initiating a national campaign to address past human rights violations (1978-2008), including “accountability for perpetrators, acknowledgement, truth-telling mechanisms, reparations, and legal and institutional reforms to prevent occurrence of new violations” is recommended.

“Such mechanisms would also act as a deterrent to prevent any future form of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrest or ill-treatment by State security personnel,” the brief states.

Additionally, the Majlis (parliament) should “urgently enact” pending legislation, ensure civil society is consulted, and that the bills “fully conform with international human rights commitments and obligations of the Maldives.” Furthermore, the death penalty should not be enshrined in those texts.

FIDH and MDN also recommend the government fulfill its various international commitments. This includes investigating allegations of torture, adopting implementing legislation for the International Criminal Court statute, as well as guaranteeing the human rights and protections enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Additionally, the scope of the Maldives’ reservation to Article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) – which aims to eliminate discrimination in all matters relating to marriage and family relations, and ensures gender equality – should be significantly reduced.

Adhering to the recommendations of various UN Special Rapporteur’s, which have addressed some of the systemic problems within the judicial system and various human rights issues, is also recommended. As is arranging future Rapporteur’s missions regarding transitional justice and additional human rights challenges.

Government reaction

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dhunya Maumoon told local media yesterday (April 23) that Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Abdul Samad Abdullah had left for London April 22 to participate in the CMAG meeting.

Maumoon highlighted that this marks the first occasion the Maldives has been invited to a CMAG meeting since its removal from the agenda.

“The opportunity for the Maldivian Foreign Minister to participate in a CMAG meeting was a great achievement, and one which resulted from the efforts by President Waheed’s government in cooperation with the Commonwealth,” said Maumoon.

“Now Maldives will have the opportunity to partake in discussions at CMAG. But the Maldives delegation will not be present when the group discusses the Maldives,” she added.

Maumoon also reiterated the government’s position that the Maldives should not have been on CMAG’s agenda and that “the move was prompted by a lack of understanding of the true events that transpired in the Maldives.”

“Some countries” had realized this error and accused Nasheed of influencing CMAG members, Maumoon claimed.

While Maumoon admitted “there was always a fear of instability in Maldives due to the rather infant democracy in the country,” she also highlighted that “international partners have acknowledged the positive strides the country has made brought about in a relatively peaceful manner.”

In April 2012, Maldives’ permanent representative to the EU Ali Hussein Didi criticised the Commonwealth’s involvement in the Maldives, telling the European Parliament that the Commonwealth’s Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) lacked a clear mandate to place the Maldives on its agenda.