MDP cautious over police conduct as Commonwealth assigns election security consultant

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has expressed caution following the Commonwealth’s decision to assign a security expert to observe police conduct during the 2013 presidential election.

The opposition party this week questioned the Commonwealth’s previous lack of success in ensuring security force reforms, adding that it remained “highly suspicious” of Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz’s conduct in the build up to the election.

Police announced this week that the Commonwealth had appointed Eldred de Klerk to assist with ensuring election security, a decision they declared was in line with “international best practices” after requesting the intergovernmental organisation provide consultancy services.

Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz met with de Klerk in Male’ on Sunday (August 26) to discuss his planned work ahead of the election.

Minivan News understands a similar request was made to the UN, which opted instead to work with others members of the international community to try and ensure the “smooth running” of next month’s election. Despite rejecting the police service’s request, a UN source today said it appreciated the Commonwealth’s contribution.

The Maldives Police Service earlier this month launched an operation to send large numbers of police officers to islands in preparation for the presidential election with the stated aim of ensuring voting goes peacefully.

Riyaz is also the subject of an ongoing Police Integrity Commission (PIC) investigation over whether he contravened regulations on political neutrality by publishing a letter written by a third party on Twitter urging officers to “say no” to former President Mohamed Nasheed.

The PIC has maintained that it had received no formal complaints concerning the tweet, but was instead investigating the case on the commission’s “own initiative”.

Contacted today on the status of its investigation into the post, the PIC said it was not the commission’s policy to give details of an ongoing case, while also declining to provide a time-line for whether such a “complicated” matter would be finished before September 7.

In July, Commissioner Riyaz said his institution would continue to refuse any orders it deems “unconstitutional”, after expressing concerns over leaked proposals allegedly devised by the MDP to reform the country’s security forces.

Party reaction

MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said the party was cautious at the Commonwealth’s decision to provide an elections security consultant after it’s lack of success in ensuring the police reforms called for in the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) report it had backed.

“We will have to wait to find out if the Commonwealth is actually trying to help diffuse mutinous elements [in the police],” said Ghafoor.

The CoNI report was mandated to ascertain the truth behind the MDP’s allegations that former President Mohamed Nasheed was forced to resign from office on February 7, 2012, due to a “coup d’etat”, after sections of the police and military mutinied against the government.

While the CoNI report concluded there was “no coup, no duress and no mutiny” behind the change of government, the findings did urge changes to the country’s judiciary, legislature, certain independent institutions, and the police service.

The MDP added that it currently had no plans to meet with the Commonwealth’s election security consultant despite its concerns.

“It would be up to the consultant to come and talk with us,” Ghafoor said. “All we know is, if police try to cause any disruption during the election, all hell is going to break loose.”

Despite the MDP’s concerns, PPM MP Ahmed Nihan said the party welcomed the Commonwealth’s appointment of a security specialist to assist with ensuring election security ahead of what was likely to be a “highly competitive election”.

Nihan said that although police should have no role in running the election or visiting polling stations – unless required by the country’s Elections Commission (EC) – it was important that officers were present in case of significant disruption.

“Things can go wrong in any given circumstance,” he said, reiterating concerns expressed earlier this week by his party that “major incidents” on the day of voting could compromise a free and fair vote.

Elections Commission criticism

The PPM maintained that it was more concerned with the competency of the country’s EC and its commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek ahead of next month’s vote – rather than security issues with the police.

Nihan maintained that the PPM, along with election rival the Jumhoree Party (JP), were more concerned at what it alleged was the “mishandling” of the upcoming election by the EC, expressing particular concern over whether the commission’s president was fit for the post.

He accused the EC over the last two and a half months of failing to address the party’s concerns about holding free and fair polls, claiming it “could have done better”, while also questioning the timing of allowing IT experts from India to be programming software for the commission. Nihan accused the EC of only offering rebuttals to the party’s concerns.

However, EC President Fuwad Thowfeek this week told Minivan News that he had met with a PPM delegation several times in the build up to voting, providing what he called detailed queries to their questions.

“Every time [the EC has met with the PPM] we have very clearly explained everything to them, answered all their queries and gave very detailed responses to them,” he said. “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.”

The Maldives NGO Federation last week expressed concern that political parties were attempting to discredit the Elections Commission (EC) by inciting hatred toward the institution in an effort to obstruct the holding of a free and fair presidential election.


State sues Male’ City Council for repossession of MDP protest camp at Usfasgandu

The state has filed a lawsuit in the Civil Court against Male City Council (MCC) for the repossession of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s protest camp at ‘Usfasgandu’ today.

During the first hearing, the state argued that the city council had been giving the land to parties against the agreement made between the state and the city council and also against the government’s policies.

The state also claimed that they had previously requested the city council hand over the land to the state in March, but had refused to do so.

State lawyers also said in court that the cabinet had made a similar decision on last May, but despite the cabinet’s decision, the city council had failed to hand back the land to the state.

During the hearing, the state asked the court to order MCC to hand over ‘Usfasgandu’ back to the state.

In response to the case presented, MCC lawyers asked the court for an opportunity to respond to the case in writing.

The judge ended the court session giving MCC lawyers to respond in the next hearing.

Speaking to Minivan News, MCC Councilor Ahmed Falah said that the court has given them the opportunity to respond in writing and the next hearing was scheduled on July 8.

Asked about on what basis the state was suing the MCC, Falah said that they were trying to limit the powers of the city council.

“They say that we were in breach of the agreement that was made between the MCC and the state. But the agreement does not state any specific procedure or rules on how the city council can give the lands to those that request it,” he said.

Falah claimed that the whole case was politically motivated as the council had the opposition majority.

“This is not anything about the agreement, it is all about politics. They know that [government] does not have a majority in City Council so they are trying take all our powers, the land was given in accordance with the decentralization act,” he said.

The case flared up after MCC extended the ‘Usfasgandu’ lease period for another three months after its initial period expired this July.

On March 22, MCC gave ‘Usfasgandu’ to MDP to conduct political activities, after the police dismantled ‘Justice Square’ (the Tsunami Monument area) last march.

Councilor Falah at the time said that they “gave the land because last Monday terrorists attacked the Justice Square at the end of Lonuziyaarai street.’’

However, the cabinet of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan decided to take over the land from MCC and hand it over to Ministry of Housing and Environment.

In a statement, the President’s Office at the time said that during discussions concerning “the breach of agreement by the MCC in utilizing the land plots and other properties handed over to the City Council by the Ministry of Housing and Environment,” the cabinet had decided “to entrust the Minister of Housing and Environment with the authority to reclaim the properties from the City Council when required.”

However, MCC refused to comply with the decision citing that the ministry had no authority over the land.

In a letter informing the ministry of its decision, the council insisted that the ‘Usfasgandu’ area was “temporarily leased” to the former ruling party in accordance with the Decentralisation Act, contending that the ministry did not have legal authority to reclaim council property.

Ministry of Home Affairs, asked police to take over ‘Usfasgandu’ following the non-compliance in handing the area over to the Ministry of Housing and Environment.

The Maldives Police Services (MPS) sought a court order from the Criminal Court but was initially refused after deciding that it was out of its jurisdiction.

The Criminal Court at the time said it had studied the documents presented by the police along with the court warrant request form, and decided that the warrant was not within its capacity to grant.

On May 29, police raided the MDP protest camp at Usfasgandu, after obtaining a search warrant from the Criminal Court and cordoning off the area from MDP demonstrators.

Reasons for the search as stated on the warrant included: “suspected criminal activity”, “damage to public property”, and “suspected black magic performed in the area”.

Under evidence, the warrant alleged that people in the Usfasgandu area verbally abused police officers and damaged a police vehicle on April 20, obstructed a Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) exercise of May 9, and on May 25, “MDP protesters threw a cursed rooster at MNDF officers.”

The security forces began the dismantling the camp at Usfasgandu, shortly before being ordered to halt by the Civil Court after the MDP challenged the legality of the operation.

The government appealed the Civil Court decision in the High Court, which issued an injunction suspending the Civil Court’s injunction.

Police issued a statement right after the High Court injunction stating that there were no more legal obstructions to raiding the camp, but said the police were “thinking on the matter”.