Amid constant attacks on the Elections Commission’s (EC) internet server and concerns over voter database security, Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek has revealed that the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) had previously requested access to the commission’s IT section.
Despite admitting their ongoing concerns in this matter, the PPM have denied asking for this kind of access.
The EC’s internet server is currently facing continuous attacks from hackers both within the Maldives and abroad, although EC Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek has previously dismissed rumours that any such attempts had been successful.
Earlier this month, PPM and Jumhooree Party (JP) lodged a complaint with the EC expressing fears that foreign nationals had access to the Maldives’ voter database for the upcoming presidential election. The EC has sought assistance from Indian IT professionals to set up software in order to oversee future council elections.
Earlier this year, the Elections Commission of India (ECI) and the Maldives’ Elections Commission agreed on a roadmap for cooperation that includes jointly developing an assistance project to enable free and fair elections later this year.
In response, the EC met with a “combined team” representing the JP and PPM to dismiss these fears, explaining that only local staff had access to sensitive information or the commission’s security systems.
Thowfeek further explained to Minivan News today (August 21) how the commission had addressed the PPM’s concerns.
“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,” said Thowfeek.
“We attended to almost all their requests, but there are some demands that we cannot meet. For example, one of their demands was to see our IT section,” he continued.
“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,” he explained.
“We conducted local council elections – which were much more complex and complicated [than the presidential election] – without any problems. And we have also held three parliamentary by-elections and over 20 local council by-elections,” he continued.
“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 have started questioning our competence and ability, this is very strange,” he noted.
“We have given really clear answers to them. We are not hiding anything. We are very transparent. Everything is really clearly explained, so I don’t understand,” Thowfeek added.
“President Waheed and President Nasheed are very confidant in this commission, they have no complaints at all,” he noted. Based on the feedback the commission has received, “the public recognises our efforts and they have confidence in us.”
“So it is very strange when suddenly the PPM found this type of problems with us,” he added.
Thowfeek expressed confidence in the “really good, professional” work the EC has been doing and does not believe that the PPM has any grounds for legal action.
PPM MP and Spokesperson Ahmed Nihan denied that the party had requested access to the EC’s IT section to see its hardware and software while speaking to Minivan News today.
“No, we did not ask to see the EC’s hardware or software, just regarding the officials and their allocated tasks,” said Nihan.
He explained that PPM and JP raised the issue two times and in a written letter “as we do not know the Indian IT officials.”
“We are still quite uncertain and unsure why these people are here at this time,” Nihan continued.
“The EC should be very much clear about about this assistance, who the people are, where they are from, etc. They should be very carefully and clearly letting people know about who has access to [voter] data,” he continued.
Software hackers gaining access to the EC’s voter database remains an additional security concern of the PPM’s.
“We have heard unconfirmed rumors that hackers had gained access to the voter re-registration database, which was shocking,” said Nihan. “We’ve lost faith in all of the EC and the institution’s functionality – they are dysfunctionally handling everything.”
“The EC seems to be agitated and counterattacking. We really regret that EC officials lack the responsibility to reply, [instead] they go on media and attack us,” he continued.
Nihan claims that the EC had deleted all the election registrations from the previous elections – repeating claims that deceased voters were still registered. He also alleged that the commission has hired very naive and fresh recruits.
“Even during the Ungoofaaru by-election we had these complaints,” he said.
Since the EC is run from public money with parliamentary approval, the PPM is seeking a legal resolution for their “unaddressed” concerns, explained Nihan.
He added that the PPM’s vice presidential candidate Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed was heading a team charged with gathering similar complaints.
“If we find enough evidence we will take the EC to court,” said Nihan.
Despite his insistence that the party would take legal action should it find enough evidence, Nihan explained the importance of holding free and fair elections and that the party would not want to hinder the election by filing a court case.
“We are all prepared to give the Maldives an election, which is most important,” said Nihan.
“If there is anything from us [filed in court], it would not be the best practice for democracy,” he added.