National Movement plans protests against Elections Commission

The youth wing of the self-titled ‘National Movement’ – comprised of several NGOs and the religious conservative Adhalaath Party (AP) – has called for protests against the Elections Commission (EC), alleging that the first round of the presidential election was rigged.

The group “harshly criticised” the EC, citing the “many irregularities” the Jumhooree Party (JP) has belaboured regarding the presidential election’s first round, according to local media accounts of Tuesday’s (September 17) press conference.

They also accused Parliament and independent institutions, such as the EC, of not providing enough support to address these alleged “irregularities”.

National Movement youth wing leader Sobah Rasheed accused authorities of rigging the presidential election’s first round, held on September 7, and declared the group’s intention to hold protests demanding reform of the EC and independent institutions in the Maldives.

“The Elections Commission must not hold the second round of the elections before the issues surrounding the first round of polls are properly addressed,” said Rasheed.

The ‘National Movement’ will “not go home until they receive answers” and will protest until “the outcome desired by the people is reached”, he vowed.

The ‘National Movement’ declared they are working to hold the people responsible for the polling “irregularities” accountable.

“The Maldives has long had a culture of [people] not having the courage to voice out the truths about vote rigging,” the group declared.

JP Event Coordinator and National Movement youth wing member Ahmed Ghaalib also spoke during the ‘National Movement’ youth wing press conference, and stressed that taking the initiative to protest was not directed by a political party – but all political parties are welcome to participate.

“The National Movement’s youth wing will be leading the entire movement’s protests,” Ghaalib told Minivan News yesterday.

He explained that the group had planned to start protesting Tuesday night, but decided to delay after the High Court issued its ruling.

“We are waiting on the Supreme Court ruling – until the court says [the EC is] right or wrong. We will fully respect and obey court rulings,” said Ghaalib.

“We are not going to disturb, just raise our voices and share some information with the international media,” he added.

Ghaalib explained the main point of the protests is to highlight the EC’s “many flaws to help them improve”.

“We are working to build trust between the people and the [Elections] commission, not destroy them,” he said.

Ghaalib clarified that the entire EC is not the issue, but rather three individual commission members, the Chair Fuwad Thowfeek, Vice Chair Ahmed Fayaz, and Member Ali Mohamed Manik, who he personally believes have Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) affiliations.

He believes protests alone will not build trust between the EC and Maldivian citizens, however National Movement members “raising their voices” will.

“Regarding the GMR issue, we worked very hard to do those things,” said Ghaalib. “This time everybody has decided to come out and raise their voices, we are ready to reform the Elections Commission.”

“The JP is not affiliated with the ‘National Movement’, however Ghaalib himself can go to whatever he likes in a personal capacity,” JP Spokesperson Moosa Rameez told Minivan News yesterday (September 18).

The ‘National Movement’ was born out of the unofficial December 23 coalition of eight political parties – now part of the coalition government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed – and an alliance of NGOs that rallied at a mass gathering to “defend Islam” in late 2011. The rally was held to oppose the allegedly liberal policies and “secularisation agenda” of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Following the controversial transfer of presidential power on February 7, the “civil alliance” led a campaign dubbed “Maldivians’ Airport to Maldivians” calling on the government to terminate the concession agreement with Indian infrastructure giant GMR to manage and modernise Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

Elections Commission

The EC has raised concerns that there may not be a suitable environment for the presidential election’s second round should Villa TV (VTV) – owned by JP leader Gasim Ibrahim – continue to deliberately spread false information and incite people to rise up against the commission.

The media has continued to disseminate unsubstantiated information about the commission, and threats have been directed at the EC’s chair, his family, and the vice chair, as well as EC official Ibrahim ‘Ogaru’ Waheed in the week-and-a-half since the presidential election’s first round.

The EC has emphatically dismissed allegations of vote rigging as “baseless and unfounded”, highlighting its transparency, its ongoing complaints investigations, and the praise from a broad spectrum of election observers who noted peaceful voting and the preparedness of the EC.

“With [election] officials from different sources [working] in front of [election] observers, there was no way the type of fraud [JP is alleging] could be made,” EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek recently told Minivan News.

“In front of all those people – as well as election monitors and observers – there is no way anyone can do any sort of mischief,” he continued.

“Polling station officials were not all from the EC. We hired various officers from public sector organisations, as well as young people looking for work,” he noted.

“Every ballot box had a combination of all types of individuals, selected at random, and a balance was kept between females and males, young and old,” he explained. “Many met for the first time during training or [polling station] duty. All the people belonging to [and responsible for] each ballot box were not trained together [as a group].”

Thowfeek also addressed the voter registry concerns raised by the JP – and previously raised by the PPM prior to elections.

“The voter’s list was published two weeks before voting and the lists were [also] sent to all ballot box locations in addition to EC officials, presidential candidate representatives, observers from each political party,” said Thowfeek. “Anyone who has this [list] will know that they will not be able to show a single person who voted under a false name.”

He explained that the EC obtained the voter registration lists from island council offices as well as the Male’ municipality office. This data was compiled and the lists cross-checked with the Department of National Registration to verify its accuracy.

Thowfeek also emphasised that many individuals are not aware or are misunderstanding the Male’ Dhaftharu – a special registry for people who are Male’ residents, but are from other islands – registration process.

“In the past people were placed on the Dhaftharu with the municipal council [listed as their residence], but this time they put the places where they live,” said Thowfeek.

“They are Maldivian citizens [from the islands] residing in Male’ but they don’t have a permanent residence – they have the right to vote,” he declared.

Last week, the EC also announced that eight deceased individuals the JP had claimed to be on the electoral register had been found to be living.

The commission has determined that the eight people did cast ballots and has met five of them, EC Vice Chair Ahmed Fayaz told local media. The commission has received information that the other three individuals are also alive, though the EC has not yet been able to meet them.

Department of National Registration

Meanwhile, the Department of National Registration (DNR) has dismissed the possibility of individuals voting with forged national identity cards.

DNR Director General Fareeda Yoosuf has insisted there was no chance forged ID’s could be used to vote.

Each individual identity card is unique and does not change even when renewed and, even in cases where lost IDs are replaced, the same identity number is used, Yoosuf noted.

No complaints of forged identity cards have been received by the DNR so far, she noted.


Human rights NGO calls for international observers in Male’ over fears of CNI-related violence

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) NGO has today called for the international community to send observers to Male’ in time for the release of the findings of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI).

With the CNI expected to publicly release its findings on Thursday (August 30), FIDH said that it was “extremely concerned” about the potential for violence in the build up and aftermath of the report’s release.

“The CNI was established in May to determine the nature of the transition of power in February, which led to the so-called resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed,” the NGO stated.

“These events were followed by continuous unrest in the streets of Male’ and severe repression of demonstrations by state security forces. FIDH calls on the international community to immediately send observers to Male’ to prevent further deterioration of the human rights situation in the country.”

The NGO’s statement comes a day after the Maldives Police Service (MPS) launched an operation to introduce increased scrutiny of the Male’s streets and surrounding waters in order to try and control fears of a potential outbreak of unrest ahead of release of the CNI findings.

Maldives Police Service Assistant Commissioner Hussain Waheed today told reporters that authorities had decided to strengthen security across the capital and other islands, in order to “not give any opportunity to create unrest”.

However, Waheed claimed police would provide full support and security services to demonstrations held “peacefully and within the contours of laws”.

Media Freedom

Discussing the current political situation in the Maldives, FIDH president Souhayr Belhassen claimed the NGO was concerned with a number of cases of violence and a “deterioration” in media freedom since February’s controversial transfer of power.

“Since last February, we have witnessed fast-increasing political violence in the Maldives, as well as the multiplication of arbitrary arrests, sexual harassment of female protesters and legal and physical harassment of opposition leaders, including murder attempts,” she claimed. “In such a context, the wait-and-see approach adopted by the international community has become unsustainable and irresponsible.”

During a visit to Male’ by the NGO earlier this month, FIDH claimed it had witnessed an ongoing “deterioration” in press freedoms since February.

“The influence of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the extreme polarisation of the media have been a cause of concern throughout the [constutitional] reform process, and since last February, the authorities have been accused of harassing pro-opposition media,” the NGO said in its statement.

FIDH President Belhassen noted particular concern with the violent attack earlier this year of local blogger Hilath Rasheed, who was left in a critical condition after being stabbed in the neck near his home in Male’ last month.

FIDH alleged that the attack was conducted by religious extremists based on interviews conducted with Hilath after he had to fled the Maldives after partly recovering from his injuries. The government has denied there was proof of any religious motivation behind the attack, claiming it had been carried out by rival gang members.

“FIDH found that the general public has little trust in public institutions, and that these institutions are seen as ineffective in breaking impunity of perpetrators of human rights violations. Authorities also have failed to investigate police violence impartially,” Belhassen stated. “Moreover, despite all the evidence available, the investigation of the attempted murder of human rights defender Hilath Rasheed has not progressed.”