High Court rules Miladhoo Council election need not be annulled

In response to a case submitted to the High Court by a candidate alleging irregularities in Noonu Atoll Miladhoo’s council election, the superior court has ruled that there is no reason why the election needs to be annulled.

Accepting that there were problems in the first election held on January 18, the Elections Commission held a revote in Miladhoo on February 15.

Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) candidate Mohamed Ali from Bahaaruge of Miladhoo island then filed a case in the High Court asking for the revote to be annulled too.

The High Court maintains that there are no issues with the second vote which call for an annulment.


Council candidate withdraws despite election being delayed to accommodate his candidacy

Gaaf Alif Atoll Villingili Constituency’s Atoll Council candidate Masood Ahmed withdrew his name yesterday, despite the Elections Commission (EC) having delayed the election in the constituency to accommodate his contestation following a Supreme Court appeal verdict.

Masood, who applied to contest as an independent candidate, has informed local media that he is a member of ruling Progressive Party of Maldives, and that he will assist in the campaign of the party’s candidates after withdrawing his own name.

“In reality, the Elections Commission has no right to reject my candidacy. I filed the case in Supreme Court to prove this point. As I later thought about it, I realized that contesting now will not be the best thing even for the party. I was of this mindset even when the EC decided to delay elections in my constituency,” he is quoted as saying to local media.

While local media reports that the EC rejected Ahmed’s candidacy as his Criminal Records form read that he had been involved in “committing sexual offences against a minor or infringing on a person’s modesty”, the Supreme Court ruled the EC’s decision void.

In the ruling, the apex court claimed that while a person who is charged with pedophilia or rape cannot contest in the elections as per the law, Ahmed did not have such a criminal charge against him.

It stated that the charges against Ahmed had been for engaging in illicit sex with a woman, and that these offences were of a different category. The court also noted that proof of having committed illicit sex is not equivalent to proof of rape.


Voter lists put up at polling stations with ID card photos

Voter lists for today’s council elections have been placed at polling stations for the first time with national identity card photos, prompting complaints from women with face veils.

Speaking at an Elections Commission (EC) press conference this afternoon, EC President Fuwad Thowfeek said photos were included in the eligible voters registry placed outside each polling station as a safeguard to prevent fraud.

“Even though this is something new that we introduced, in most countries, photos of voters are included in the voters list,” Thowfeek said.

Photos of all eligible voters were provided by the Department of National Registration (DNR) from its identity card database with the exception of 1,170 photos, Thowfeek said.

The voters list used in previous elections only included name, address, ID card number and date of birth.

EC member Ali Mohamed Manik said the EC decided to make the lists with ID card photos in the interest of ensuring transparency.

“There are a lot of foreigners living in the country. As there could be a chance for foreigners to vote using ID cards, this was done to prevent that and facilitate the right to vote for Maldivians,” he said.

Manik said the commission has officially received two complaints so far from women in cases where the ID card photos were taken before they wore face veils.

The official in charge of the Elections Complaints Bureau noted that a number of women who wear the hijab were also phoning in complaints about their photos being made public.

“Concerning these complaints, we brought it to the attention of the commission’s members and informed [polling stations] to cover with a piece of paper the photos of people who insist on taking it down,” he said.

He added that voters had an “individual responsibility” to update photos at the DNR after wearing the hijab.

Local media outlet CNM has meanwhile reported that some religious scholars have objected to the photos of women with face veils made public by the EC.

NGO Salaf preacher Sheikh Adam Shameem told the news website that making the photos public was demeaning to the women in question and called to punish those responsible.

Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla also contended that the practice was contrary to Islamic principles and infringed on the rights of veiled women.

Among other complaints submitted to the EC included two cases where marked ballot papers were displayed, complaints regarding pens with fading ink and complaints over the conduct of election officials.


Supreme Court disqualifies island council candidate

The Supreme Court on Friday night disqualified a candidate for the island council of Thaa Kandoodhoo over a drug conviction in 2002.

The apex court ruled that Hassan Areef of Maafolheyge in Kandoodhoo did not meet the criteria for contesting elections as he had been sentenced to seven years imprisonment by the Criminal Court.

Areef was running for the island council on a Maldivian Democratic Party ticket when a complaint was filed at the Elections Commission complaints bureau.


President Yameen reiterates campaign pledges ahead of local council elections

President Abdulla Yameen reiterated the Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) pledges at a campaign rally in Addu City last night ahead of Saturday’s local council election, urging voters to choose candidates willing to work with the government.

Addressing supporters in Hithadhoo, President Yameen vowed to fulfil the PPM’s pledge to provide MVR10,000 a month to fishermen during lean months, and to raise old age benefits from MVR2,700 to MVR5,000 a month before the end of the year.

“But I said even then [during the presidential election], these things are not done out of the state budget. MVR2,700 a month is given to all persons over the age of 65 from the state’s budget. In addition to money given from the state budget, what I said was that there are large amounts of money in various state funds,” Yameen said.

“If this money is handed over to a fund manager to earn a better income, an adequate profit could be made from it. It is from this that the MVR5,000 I mentioned could be distributed,” he explained.

The old age pension could not have been increased in the state budget as parliament has not approved any of the government’s revenue raising measures, Yameen contended.

The Fisheries Ministry has meanwhile begun registering fishermen, Yameen continued, after which the scheme for providing MVR10,000 a month would be launched.

Fishermen would have to pay about MVR80 to MVR90 a month as a deposit to a fund, he explained, out of which MVR10,000 would be distributed during months when fishing is poor.

“But I should have the opportunity to do this, shouldn’t I? It is the public that gives me the opportunity. The public gives this opportunity through the councillors and members of parliament you elect,” he said, urging voters to choose PPM or government-aligned candidates in the upcoming elections.

Regardless of political affiliation or ideology, he added, the public should ensure that MPs “do not say no to projects that are beneficial to the people,” which was not the case at present with MPs of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Opposition MPs should vote for the budget and enable the executive to enact its economic policies, Yameen contended, as the government was elected by a majority of the public with implicit endorsement of its policies.

Refusing to approve ministerial appointees or pass legislation did not amount to “holding the government accountable,” he argued.

Addu City development

A number of infrastructure projects for the southernmost atoll was included in the 2014 budget, Yameen said, including establishing sewerage systems, providing clean water, and upgrading powerhouses.

Moreover, he added, the Addu International Airport at Gan would become “a seaplane hub” that transports tourists to nearby atolls.

As a foreign company has won the bid for the Herethera Resort, Yameen said further jobs would be created, whilst more tourism projects for Addu City were in the pipeline.

The government has also invited bids for the Equatorial Convention Center – which was at present an “eyesore” that was “not utilised for any purpose” – to be developed as “a city hotel complex,” Yameen said.

“We’re talking about thousands of jobs. We’re talking about economic development. We’re not talking about mariculture in a small lagoon here. We are talking about projects, a vision for economic progress,” he said.

Noting that MVR300 million (US$19 million) was allocated for the youth ministry, Yameen also pledged to establish a sports complex in each ward of Addu City this year.

High youth employment and sports facilities were necessary to reduce crime, he stressed.

If the government’s efforts were not obstructed, Yameen said, the country would undergo an “economic transformation” with GDP per capita doubled in the next five years and tourist arrivals reaching 5 million a year.

“Vote for the scale”

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has meanwhile been campaigning in Male’ for MDP candidates from the capital.

Speaking at a campaign event in Maafanu last week, Nasheed urged the public to “vote for the scale [MDP logo]” to preserve and consolidate democracy.

The choice was between the unjust and oppressive practices of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 30-year reign and the “rapid development” and social security of the MDP’s three years in government, Nasheed contended.

“Do you want equality or for the riches of the nation to be left to a wealthy few? Do you want to maintain individual liberty or lose your freedom of expression and freedom of assembly saying it is for the good of the society?” he asked.

“Do you want the path to development becoming clear through political parties and peaceful political activity or do you want an authoritarian family rule?”

Nasheed called on voters to choose MDP to “reform and improve the condition of this country.”

“It is not possible to do it in one election. Outmoded principles and traits entrenched through the ages can only be changed in this country by repeatedly voting for the scale,” he said.


Progressive Coalition launches local council campaign

The ruling Progressive Coalition has launched its local council campaign “My stake – development is certain” last night at the Alimas Carnival in Malé.

President Abdulla Yameen said a local council election win was necessary for the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and its coalition partners – the Jumhooree Party (JP) and Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) – to deliver on campaign pledges.

“When we do not win those seats, when we do not receive cooperation from the Majlis and councils, when we are unable to [deliver], then there is no point speaking on the matter,” Yameen said.

In a democracy, citizens must provide the opportunity for a government to fulfill its campaign pledges over the opposition holding the government accountable, he continued.

Yameen pledged to provide services outside of the government budget by utilizing existing resources. Further, the PPM administration will provide promised benefits to fishermen, farmers and elderly through an insurance scheme, he said.

The PPM had promised MVR10,000 (US$ 648) cash handouts for fishermen, MVR8000 (US$ 518) for farmers and MVR 5000 (US$ 324) for the elderly during the presidential campaign. But on assuming power, Yameen opted for insurance scheme over direct cash.

“We must not worry about funds [for pledges] in the budget. These are not things you do through the budget. They will be provided through an insurance scheme,” he said.

Speaking on his recent visit to India, Yameen said the Maldives cannot face global political currents alone and needed help from the international community. However, despite India’s promise of aid, the Maldives would not give up “an inch” of its territory, he said.

The Maldives foreign policy will be based on increasing foreign investment and aid, Yameen said.

He also pledged to strengthen the Maldives’ banking sector, stating that the Bank of Maldives was reluctant to release large loans to one party or to invest in profitable enterprises despite having the money to do so.

“God willing, we will end these practices. There are additional ways for the bank to make profits. We will bring those changes,” he said.

Speaking on the vacant MMA governor’s position, Yameen said he had nominated a “capable” female nominee.

Yameen’s half-brother and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and JP’s leader Gasim Ibrahim also called on the public to grant a majority of local council and parliamentary seats for the Progressive Coalition to allow the government to fulfill its pledges.

The JP backed Yameen in the second round of polls in November 2013 after the PPM allegedly promised the party over 30 percent stake in government and local council and parliamentary seats. Local council elections are set for January 18 and parliamentary elections are scheduled for March.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) launched its local council campaign in December 2013, promising to empower local councils if the party wins a majority in both elections.


Death threats force Elections Commission to seek police assistance

Ongoing death threats received by the Elections Commission (EC)’s permanent staff and polling station officials have prompted the commission to file a report with the Maldives Police Service (MPS) today.

A lack of state cooperation prevented the commission from holding a “free and fair [presidential election] vote without intimidation, aggression, undue influence or corruption” on September 28 as constitutionally-mandated, the (EC) announced on Friday night, shortly before it was surrounded by a police barricade.

Lack of police support, “some political parties” threatening to set ballot boxes on fire, and death threats made against Elections Commission members, staff, and officials involved in the voting process were highlighted as reasons for postponing the second round run-off, which would otherwise have taken place yesterday.

Special Operations police surrounded the EC secretariat on Friday, with orders from Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz to take over the building and ballot papers should it proceed with holding the election.

In addition to the MPS stating it would not cooperate with the EC and ceasing to providing security requested by the commission for the second round, police prevented EC staff and visitors from entering the secretariat on Friday. However, staff were later allowed to return after a series of phone calls between Riyaz and EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek.

As of Thursday, the EC insisted that it was constitutionally mandated to hold the runoff within 21 days of the first round, in spite of an order from the Supreme Court to suspend the election indefinitely. This prompted Assistant Commissioner of Police Hassan Habeeb to call the Elections Commission Chair on Thursday night (September 26) and warn that police would not allow the election to take place.

Death threats continue

“It’s not just myself and my family, but Elections Commission staff, including most directors and even some heads of ballot boxes and other polling station staff who have received threatening messages that they and their families will be killed,” Elections Commission Chair Fuwad Thowfeek told Minivan News today.

“They are very much scared about the situation. Some are even afraid to come out of their homes. It’s very sad,” Thowfeek lamented.

“I hope we will be safe, we have been trying to follow the constitution,” he said.

Thowfeek said the EC had sent a report to the MPS detailing the threats, phone numbers the messages were sent from, and other relevant information.

He noted that the EC was still considering whether to send an official letter to the Telecommunications Authority regarding the death threats “because we are waiting for action to be taken through the MPS, since they have the authority to investigate.”

The following SMS was sent to EC and polling station officials yesterday:

“What you did to rig the vote near ballot boxes will be exposed. YOU resign. Or else even your family will be killed. Allah Akbar we are with the religion.”

On Thursday senior Election’s Commission staff received the following message around 6:00pm:

“We will kill anyone who allies with Fuwad Thowfeek against the Supreme Court order and the Maldivian constitution and continues with voting activities. Allah Akbar.”

Additionally, during an interview Minivan News conducted with Thowfeek last week, he noted that “some of us are getting threats from unknown people. I have received SMS messages saying ‘be careful when you come out on the street, you’ll be stabbed in the stomach’.”

Only the EC’s human resource section and other section heads of the commission have a list of all election officials and temporary staff, explained Thowfeek.

The commission had provided the four political party presidential candidate representatives with a list of all elections officials, including polling station staff, but that list did not include their phone or ID card numbers, he noted.

Police integrity

The Police Integrity Commission (PIC) called for the police to provide any assistance the EC requires to go ahead with the second round.

Earlier this month the PIC determined Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz violated the Police Act by posting a letter on Twitter urging police officers not to vote for former President Mohamed Nasheed and recommended administrative action be taken against the police chief.

Minivan News enquired with the PIC whether Commissioner Riyaz would be able to impartially issue orders to prevent the EC from conducting election preparations and holding the second round runoff, or whether the MPS – under his leadership – would be able to impartially investigate the death threats EC staff have been receiving.

PIC Director General Fathimath Sareera Ali Shareef told Minivan News today that she needed to consult with their legal department and would reply as soon as possible. She had not responded at time of press.

Elections Commission secure

Police meanwhile remained outside the Elections Commission until yesterday (Saturday) evening, guarding the secretariat and patrolling the road, noted Thowfeek.

“It was our request to have the police in front of the security room, on the ground floor [of the secretariat], and surrounding the building so nobody could enter from behind. They are keeping full security of the building for the protection of the commission and our own safety,” said Thowfeek.

The Elections Commission confirmed there was “no danger” its data could be tampered with because it remained “fully protected” and is being “closely monitored”.

The commission’s server was intentionally shut down on Friday night to prevent anyone from accessing data through a “remote medium”, explained Thowfeek.

Additionally, beginning Friday night, the EC established a rotational schedule to ensure staff are present in the EC’s secretariat 24 hours a day, seven days a week, “so there is no chance an outsider can get in” and tamper with any materials or data, he continued.

“Our own staff are present in the IT, security, and records section rooms – the most important places are constantly monitored,” said Thowfeek.

Police “misunderstanding”

Thowfeek also explained the “misunderstanding” between the MPS and the EC that led Special Operations police to surround the secretariat and prevent staff or visitors from entering, with orders from Police Commissioner Riyaz to take over the commission and arrest staff who disobeyed the Supreme Court order to halt presidential election preparations.

After a Raajje TV journalist called to enquire about the situation, Thowfeek explained to the reporter that “even staff and visitors were not allowed” to enter the EC.

This led Police Commissioner Riyaz to contact Thowfeek and explain that police were sent to protect the commission against any “angry people” trying to enter the EC and harm its staff, according to the EC Chair.

Riyaz also instructed Thowfeek “not to listen to stories from different people about the situation”.

Thowfeek then sent the EC’s Secretary General and Director General downstairs to confirm what was occurring. The commission’s IT and coordination section directors had been prevented from entering the building and police informed the Secretary General that visitors would not be allowed to enter on Saturday either.

The EC Chair again contacted Riyaz and explained that the action being taken by the special operations police differed from what the Police Commissioner had said the MPS officers would do.

Fifteen minutes later, Elections Commission staff with proper identification were allowed into the building and the commission was informed that invited visitors would be permitted to enter as well.

Minivan News had journalists present inside and outside the EC secretariat building throughout the events and did not observe protesters present at the time Special Operations police surrounded the building.

International observer visits

EC officials had previously planned to meet the British High Commissioner in the commission’s secretariat on Saturday, however after the EC’s Secretary General was informed by police Friday night they would not be able to hold the meeting in the commission, it was relocated to the High Commissioner’s hotel, explained Thowfeek.

“The British High Commissioner was here during the first round and commended our work,” said Thowfeek. “He came to see the second round and was disappointed when he found out it had been stopped.”

“He hoped for a quick solution and wished us [the EC] well,” he added.

A team of Nigerian election observers also arrived on Friday and were “very much disappointed” polling did not take place, explained Thowfeek. However, because they “made such a long trip” the EC has still been working with the West African observers and providing information about the electoral process.

The Danish Ambassador and the Commonwealth [observation group] Chair met with EC officials Friday, noted Thowfeek.

“We have had no news from any other [international election] observers,” he added.

Election not possible before November 11, says EC

Holding the second round – or another first round – of the presidential election will now “not be possible before November 11 within existing elections laws”, Thowfeek told Minivan News.

While the EC usually requires 60 days of preparation time for the whole process, “even if we don’t waste a single minute” 45 days will still be required before another presidential election can take place, he continued.

“We have to update the voter list, gazette it, receive complaints and input from the public regarding the list, see who will be present where on that date and allow them to re-register accordingly, add just-turned 18 year-olds and remove anyone who has died during the [voter registry updating] process, etc,” he noted.

Thowfeek explained that general and presidential elections law mandates specific periods of time are given for each step of the election preparation process, for example the voter registry must be published in the government gazette 45 days before polling, 10 days are given to submit complaints, and five days are provided to file cases of unaddressed complaints with the High Court.

“If special laws are made, then maybe it will be possible,” said Thowfeek.

“[Timetables within] the existing laws have to be rescheduled and another set of laws passed [before the November 11 constitutional election deadline],” he elaborated. “The other difficulty is that the Majlis is currently in recess. They may reconvene next week, but any law [passed] has to be ratified by the president.”

“We have just 42 days left before [the end of the presidential term on] November 11, so time is limited,” he added.

The date for the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Jumhooree Party’s case against the Elections Commission remained unscheduled at time of press.

HRCM and civil society support for elections

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has called on the Supreme Court and state institutions to ensure that Maldivians not be stripped of the right to vote, guaranteed by constitutional article 26 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and to ensure that there would be an elections within the duration stated in the constitution.

HRCM also called on everyone not to pave way for unrest and to hasten all work that had to be done to uphold the constitution.

The commission also called on the EC to solve all the issues with the voters’ registration.

HRCM further called on the authorities to take legal action against those to pose death threats and threats of violence and also called on everyone to give high priority to national interest.

Yesterday Transparency Maldives appealed to all actors “especially the Supreme Court, to uphold the spirit of the Constitution and electoral deadlines and respect people’s electoral choice.”

The NGO expressed its “concern over the delay of the second round of elections and rising tensions as Transparency Maldives did not receive any reports that suggest systematic fraud in its nationwide observation and no credible evidence that supports such allegations has been made public.”

Transparency Maldives, the HRCM and the Maldivian Democracy Network observed the first round and praised the EC’s free and fair electoral process.

Global election support

Global condemnation followed the Supreme Court’s issuing of the injunction, with the UK, EU, and the Commonwealth specifically calling for the run-off to go ahead as scheduled.

International election observers unanimously commended the first round of polling, calling for losing parties to accept defeat and allow the second round to proceed as scheduled.

The Commonwealth’s human rights and democracy arm has since “expressed concern at developments” in the Maldives following the first round of elections.

Business as usual

The Election’s Commission is meanwhile “going ahead” with preparations for the upcoming local council and parliamentary elections.

“We are doing the work for local council elections to take place in December [2013], said Thowfeek.

“[Additionally] last night we issued one draft document for constituencies. According to the law, eight months before the existing term of Parliament expires, we have to check the population figures from various localities and [based on the data] create a report on how constituencies should be formed for the next election,” explained Thowfeek.

Currently there are 77 seats in the People’s Majlis, however 85 seats will be needed, he added.

The Parliamentary election is scheduled to take place on March 2014.


EC slates Kelaa re-vote for April 9

The Elections Commission (EC) has announced that a local council by-election in Haa Alif Kelaa will take place on April 9 after the High Court declared the previous results invalid and ordered a re-vote.

The High Court ruled that the ballots were counted in a nearby island in violation of the Elections Act following disturbances in Kelaa on February 5.

The polling station in Kelaa was closed 15 minutes from time by EC officials who declared that people who left the queue would not be allowed to vote, angering many islanders and sparking confrontations.


MDP could win an election “blindfolded”, gloats Nasheed

The ruling party’s election success in population hubs across the country gave “a clear indication of the current political situation”, President Mohamed Nasheed said during a party rally at the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s Haruge.

“The government received huge support in some of the small populations. We need to consider the results of the election in several ways. This election is not about the amount of seats,” Haveeru reported Nasheed as saying.

“If we are able to do it [win elections] blindfolded I don’t see any reason why I can’t contest in 2013. It’s fortunate that the constitution limits the presidential terms to two,” he added in an apparent attempt to bait the opposition, today troubled by factional infighting.

According to Haveeru a jubilant Nasheed also criticised the campaigns of the opposition parties, as well as coalition party Adhaalath, saying he was “surprised that I couldn’t see anyone voting for Adhaalath Party except from Kinolhas (Raa Atoll). I did not see any party carrying out a good campaign except the MDP.”

The DRP has claimed victory in the local council elections citing a seat majority of 502 across island and atoll councils, to the MDP’s 375. The MDP has claimed victory because it won almost all the population hubs in the country, which could swing the popular vote in its favour.

The Elections Commission said this morning that it was still calculating the popular vote, which will give a percentage figure of support for each party.

This will provide a clearer indication of the election result than seat count or raw ballots, both because of the divide in DRP votes due to an ongoing factional split, and the ‘multiple’ votes made for island and atoll councils.

One senior figure in the MDP said the party’s preliminary calculations had pegged the result somewhere between 45-50% for the MDP and low 40s for the opposition – which would be a significant jump in support for the ruling party following the parliamentary election. However the source said the figure would be difficult to calculate with any accuracy until the Elections Commission provided voter turnout data.

Leader of the Labour Party Ahmed ‘Redwave’ Saleem, an MDP coalition partner, has meanwhile been quoted from a press statement as calling for Nasheed to resign from office and “hand over the presidency to a more qualified and responsible person.”

Saleem contends that the government misused state assets to conduct its campaign in the lead-up to the Local Council Elections, which saw President Nasheed visiting over 100 islands and giving 130 speeches.

The President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair told Haveeru yesterday that the President had worn through three pairs of shoes during the campaign, and was now on a four-day break.

Opposition leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali meanwhile told Minivan News yesterday that the priority was to ensure that successful candidates from all sides were aware of their new responsbilities.

“It is a fact that candidates from many parties including ours may not be clear on their responsibilities and mandates,” Thasmeen said.

“We don’t have any details on when the local councils will begin their work, and there are many issues that need to be finalised. For example, how will these councils interact with the government?”

Parties across the political spectrum would be required to provide “support structures” such as technical training to try prepare individual council members for decentralised governance, he added.