Elections Commission rejects PPM’s calls for “lenient” voter registration

The Elections Commission (EC) has denied receiving any formal complaints over its capability to ensure a fair election in September this year, after rejecting requests by the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) to make voter registration more “lenient”.

EC President Fuwad Thowfeek told Minivan News no “official complaints” had been filed with the commission over its ability to capably oversee the upcoming presidential election, despite the PPM alleging in local media that it was incapable of ensuring a fair vote.

Thowfeek said the PPM have previously requested the EC not to reject voter registration forms missing details such as the name of a voter’s parents or a phone number, that could not be verified during random checks.

PPM Council member and Youth Minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef was quoted in newspaper Haveeru this week calling for “major reforms” to the commission, which he alleged lacked the capacity to oversee fair voting.

The government-aligned party reportedly alleged that concerns over the false registration of voters in previous elections and discrepancies between the previously gazetted registry and the documents used by the EC itself on polling day had not been addressed.  The claims were dismissed by the EC today.

Shareef’s concerns included fears about the false registration of voters, as well as allegations of discrepancies between the gazetted registry and the final document used by the EC on voting day. Unspecified issues were also raised about how national identity cards were being used.

Minister Shareef and PPM MP and Spokesperson Ahmed Nihan were not responding to calls at time of press, while the party’s vice presidential candidate Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed was travelling and unable to answer queries on the allegations.

PPM meeting

While aware of Minister Shareef’s allegation in local media, EC President Thowfeek said he held a meeting with PPM representatives on Sunday and that no formal complaints had been been raised by the party over the EC’s competency.

He added that Shareef was among five PPM members who met with the EC during an hour and a half discussion over its work “safeguarding” the voter registry.

Thowfeek claimed that as with other parties fielding candidates for this year’s voting, the EC discussed measures it had taken to improve prevention measures for voter registry fraud, while also trying to deal with key errors that had arisen since 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. “More than that, we have worked hard this year to get the registry up to date.”

According to Thowfeek, the EC has also run campaigns on state media requesting the public update their details to ensure voters and their families were correctly registered ahead of voting.

“I can assure everyone that we are using the best system available right now,” he said. ” Even if someone is to die [in the lead up to voting], their name cannot now be changed from the list of registered voters that has [been published in the government gazette], but it will still be a very accurate voter registration.”

Thowfeek said the PPM during the meeting had requested more “lenience” in voter registration.

He said that aside from requesting for an extension to the August 7 deadline for voters to re-register if they wished to cast their ballot somewhere other than their home island, the PPM had also requested that the EC accept applications that failed to include details such as the name of a voter’s mother or father, or a phone number that could not be verified.

Thowfeek said the commission was unable to oblige the party’s requests as random verification of phone numbers and names of parents were a central part of efforts to combat potential voter fraud.

“The phone number and the mother and father’s name have to be correct on any application or we cannot accept it,” he said. “The name of a voter’s parents are not included on the ID card and are important to ensure that if an ID is stolen, it cannot be used to register a voter incorrectly.”

With the PPM reportedly requesting an inquiry by parliament’s Independent Institutions Oversight Committee, rival election candidates such as President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s ‘Forward with the nation coalition’ today claimed the EC did have the capability and staff to oversee fair polling.

The president’s coalition presently consists of his own Gaumee Iththihaadh Party (GIP) and the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

Coalition view

Coalition Spokesperson Abdul Rasheed Nafiz said despite having some concerns over the EC’s ability to deal with complaints regarding campaigning and alleged bullying of candidates, the coalition had few issues with the commission’s capability to ensure voting was fair.

“The only concern we have raised [with the EC], is that when complaints are registered concerning treatment of candidates while campaigning, we have not seen these complaints attended to,” he said.

Nafiz told Minivan News that during several recent key votes such as the local council elections, he had been aware of formal complaints being sent to the EC about the behaviour of rival supporters when out campaigning.

In the build up to this year’s election, he added that both President Waheed, his running mate DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and their spouses had been subject to “disturbing” behaviour from supporters of rival parties.

Nafiz said complaints had been officially registered with the EC over rival supporters heckling them with derogatory remarks as they tried to campaign.

“I was myself recently with the president as he went to get 1,500 signatures door-to-door in Male’ [to support his successful attempt to register as an independent presidential candidate],” he said. “I personally witnessed people passing on vehicles and shouting abuse such has ‘baaghee (traitor) Waheed’ at the president. These concerns have been raised with the EC.”

Nafiz said he had hoped that the EC would respond to this behaviour by making an announcement calling for the public and supporters of parties to refrain from such acts, or even reviewing legal options to prevent future incidents.

MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor and Jumhoree Party (JP) Spokesperson Moosa Ramiz were not responding to calls at time of press.