Polling day cancelled in the Maldives – “Irreparable damage to the state”, says EC

The Elections Commission (EC) was last night surrounded by special operations police with orders to take over the building and ballot papers and arrest officials, should it continue preparations for today’s scheduled presidential run-off election.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which had urged its supporters to vote on the day, marched on the Supreme Court and was blocked by police and pepper-sprayed. Many resort workers also indicated they intended to go on “prolonged” strike should the polls be delayed.

The besieged EC finally declared last night that it was unable to hold today’s planned polls due to a lack of cooperation from the government, including from the police, Education Ministry, Finance Ministry and Home Ministry.

The commission also said its members and staff had received death threats and threats of arson attacks on ballot boxes should it go ahead with the election. It issued the following statement:

As article 111(a) of the constitution of the Republic of the Maldives states that if no candidate receives over 50 percent of the vote, a run-off election must be held within twenty one days after the first election, this commission announced on September 14, 2013 that the second round of the 2013 presidential election shall be held on September 28, 2013 and made all preparations necessary to hold the election on that date.

However, of the state institutions whose assistance the Elections Commission requires to hold the election, the Ministry of Education took restrictive measures and said it would not provide premises to place ballot boxes and release employees who work as election officials, the Ministry of Home Affairs said it would not offer cooperation and threatened to arrest commission members, and the Ministry of Finance Treasury said it would not release funds and imposed restrictive measures. Further, the Maldives Police Service said it would not cooperate and ceased providing security requested by the commission for the second round of the election. And Assistant Commissioner of Police Hassan Habeeb called the chair of the Elections Commission on the night of September 26, 2013 and warned that [police] would not allow the election to take place.

Furthermore, we note with regret that some political parties have threatened to set ballot boxes on fire and death threats have been made against Elections Commission members, staff, and officials involved in the voting process. As a result, Elections Commission members and staff have been plunged into a state of fear. The commission believes that this would also cause irreparable damages to the general public, the Elections Commission and the state.

The Supreme Court order 06/SC-SJ/2013 (September 26, 2013) instructed and ordered the security forces of the Maldives under article 237 of the constitution to immediately put a stop to any preparations by the Election Commission for voting in the second round of the presidential election held on September 7, 2013. And police have now closed the Elections Commission office to deny entry to members, staff and any outside parties.

As article 170(a) of the constitution which states the responsibilities and powers of the Elections Commission stipulates that it is the legal responsibility of this commission to ensure the proper exercise of the right to vote and [ensure that] all elections and public referendums are conducted freely and fairly, without intimidation, aggression, undue influence or corruption, and since the commission does not believe such an atmosphere presently exists in the Maldives, we announce that voting in the second round of the presidential election scheduled for September 28, 2013 has been postponed.

The election was suspended indefinitely by a Supreme Court order on Monday night (September 23), a decision that sparked global concern from international actors.

The court opened again at midnight on Thursday (September 26) after the EC indicated that it would go ahead with the polls as constitutionally mandated, and six out of seven justices ordered security forces to forcibly halt any election preparations.

Local legal experts have questioned the court’s authority to go against the constitution.

The stand-off ended late last night after the EC conceded that it would be unable to conduct the election without government support.

Police stated last night that they would allow EC staff to return to the building, but continued to cordon the area: “The decision to delay the second round of the elections made by the Commission might result in a negative reaction by individuals or groups who do not support the decision,” read a statement.

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8:20pm Protest crowd thins to around 200 people. MDP vice presidential candidate Mustafa Lutfi just voted in the demonstration’s faux-ballot box.

6:15pm Crowd at MDP reported to have grown to 400 people.

6:10pm Jumhoree Party (JP) Policy Secretary Mohamed Ajmal has said the party remains confident a new elected head of state will still be inaugurated on November 11, even if the Supreme Court decides to null the first round vote held on September 7.

Ajmal said that the JP was now waiting to see if the the Supreme Court decides to annul the election, in which it narrowly finished in third place, based on the party’s allegations of voter irregularities, before it looks to begin to re-start campaigning.

“We will always follow principals of law and don’t want to see fighting or instability in the country,” he said.

On the basis of recent concerns from international governments and local NGOs at the delayed vote, Ajmal said he the JP shared the PPM and MDP’s concerns about having an election as soon as possible.

“We would want election during the course of next month,” he said.

6:05pm Sun Online reports that a PPM campaign office in Male’ was vandalised by a group of people early on Saturday morning.

According to Sun, windows and a television in the office were broken, and the walls splattered with paint.

An MDP office was also reported vandalised, with a glass front door smashed.

6:00pm Protesters have set up a desk in the middle of fareedhee magu with a plastic ballot box that people are voting into.

5:50pm – Haveeru reports police as stating that eight of the 10 MDP protesters arrested during yesterday’s protests remain in police custody.

Minivan News saw at least two demonstrators dragged through police lines and arrested, including DRP MP Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed. A Haveeru journalist was also arrested and reportedly taken to the Dhoonidhoo prison island, before being released four hours later.

5:45pm Protesters posting ballots into a cardboard ballot box described the Maldives as “Afghanistan, only the clothing is different.”

“We have no human rights. We don’t want tourists to come,we don’t want their dollars, it all goes to the businessmen & so called scholars that lead this coup,” another protester told Minivan News.

5:35pm TEAM Secretary General Mauroof Zaki confirms to Minivan News that two employees from Sun Travel’s Iru Fushi resort have been dismissed today.

5:32pm With the UK, EU, UN, US, Commonwealth, India, Canada and Australia all having expressed alarm this week over the Maldives’ sudden suspension of the second round of its ongoing presidential election, Tourism Minister Adheeb has downplayed suggestions tourism could be negatively impacted as a result.

Adheeb pointed to the Maldives government’s representation at the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) where the country explained its stance on the election delay.

“Our position was explained and taken well [by CMAG]. The real situation can be twisted. One party in the election has raised concerns about the voting process. A candidate has the right to go to the courts to address grievances,” he said.

“Even in the US, there has been a situation where the results of a presidential election were brought before the court.”

Adheeb called for media to provided what he called responsible reporting on the delayed vote in the Maldives.

5:28pm In an interview with Minivan News earlier today, Tourism Minister Adheeb raised concerns of international media coverage of proposed strike action predicting “travel misery” for UK tourists travelling to resorts, believing such reports were irresponsible.

He questioned media reports suggesting that there would not be workers to hand tourists cocktails as a result of strikes, arguing that reports were inaccurate and damaging to the nation’s reputation.

The comments were made after the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) launched the celebrations for World Tourism Day 2013 at the Kurumba Maldives resort yesterday (September 27).

5:23pm MDP protest now up to 200 people on Orchid Magu, shouting to police “Where is the underwear” (in reference to Justice Ali Hameed), and “Where is my ballot paper?”

5:00pm Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM) Secretary General Mauroof Zakir was not responding to calls from Minivan News to confirm allegations in social media of resort staff being fired for political reasons.

4:40pm Around 60 people at MDP protest. Around 20 police have cordoned off Orchid Magu as a handful of German tourists look on. The tourists explained to a Minivan News journalist that they were unaware of reasons for protest, but were a little concerned about the prospect of violence.

4:21pm The Villa hotels group, which is owned by Jumhoree Party (JP) presidential candidate and prominent businessman MP Gasim Ibrahim, told Minivan News that its numerous resort operations in the country were operating as normal.

A spokesperson for Paradise Island Resort and Spa in North Male’ Atoll said the property did not have any comment regarding strike action on the property, while Villa’s Sun Island Resort and Spa said there had not been any strike action on the site.

Meanwhile, Royal Island Resort and Spa said that “everything was normal” at the property, with recent political developments in the country having no impact on operations.

4:16pm MDP Spokesman Hamed Abdul Ghafoor has said that the “way forward” will be resolved by the party’s National Council at Dharubaaruge conference centre, at 2pm tomorrow.

Former Special Envoy to Nasheed Ibrahim Hussein Zaki has been placed in charge of compiling the ‘roadmap’.

When asked about the likely duration of today’s protest, Hamed said specific details were as yet “unclear”.

4:08pm During recently concluded MDP National Executive Committee, Mohamed Nasheed talked of a roadmap for progress.

3:35pm MDP are to protest outside of the STO trade center at four o’clock today.

3:30pm With major international media outlets reporting on “political chaos has tarnished the Maldives’ image as a tranquil holiday paradise”, Khaleel said that a failure to resolve the ongoing election dispute was likely to lead to long-term negative impacts on the industry.

“Maybe we will not see these impacts directly, but a mutual solution has to be found,” he added.

Khaleel said that international media would ultimately have an important role in any efforts to “improve” the Maldives’ image going forward.

“I would ask everyone to still come here and enjoy the tourism experience without involving themselves in domestic politics,” he said. “Domestic politics should not impact resorts, we need to keep politics and the economy separate.”

3:30pm The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) have called on police to not prevent journalists from covering MDP protests against the delayed presidential election’s second round. MJA’s statement released today expressed concern about restrictions placed on local media and noted that several reports of imminent attacks on various media outlets have been received. Additionally, a Haveeru journalist was arrested while covering Friday’s MDP protest for allegedly disobeying police orders, however media personnel and witnesses refuted the claims. The journalist was taken to Dhoonidhoo detention facility and tested for narcotics before being released.

3:26pm Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) Mohamed Khaleel has told Minivan News that he had not been made aware at present of adverse impacts to the resort industry from proposed strikes called for across the country by groups like the The Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM).

With the run-off vote scheduled for today delayed pending further hearings from the Supreme Court Khaleel said that industry stability was “no doubt” reliant on the country have an elected head of state sworn into office as soon as possible.

“I think we need to understand the reason for the delay,” he said of the Supreme Court case currently being heard over whether to annul the first round of voting held September 7.

“I don’t want to see the election voided, but there are concerns needing to be addressed.”

Local NGOs, foreign governments, and organisations including the Commonwealth and UN praising the conduct of the first round of the election.

3:23pm Social media reports MDP supporters will protest in Delhi, Trivandrum, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Madras, Chandigar, and Mysore India today at 5pm local time.


2:32pm A spokesperson for Sun Travel and Tours, which is owned and operated by local businessman and media magnate MP Ahmed Shiyam, said the company had observed “no unrest” at its resorts despite calls for strike action.

“I cannot comment on the situation at our individual properties, but in general, we do not allow staff to hold public political demonstrations on the property,” said the spokesperson.

The company operates two four star and two five star resorts in the country, including the Noonu Atoll-based Iru Fushi, where certain staff earlier this year alleged facing political harassment following Sun Travel’s decision to terminate a management agreement with multinational Hilton at the site.

MP Shiyam is the head of the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA), which is currently part of a coalition backing Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen in the ongoing presidential election.

2:12pm Local NGO Transparency Maldives has released a statement today calling for all national actors, “especially the Supreme Court”, to respect the electoral process by upholding the constitution and electoral deadlines.

“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,” read the statement.

“Electoral disputes and tensions must be resolved in a speedy manner, and in addressing issues of national interest inclusiveness and acceptance of all relevant state and political actors are crucial for the long-term peace of the country.”

1:53pm Minivan News understands that that the National Executive Committee of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is presently holding a meeting with a statement expected to be released shortly.

1:27pm A spokesperson for resort group Anantara, which operates four properties across the country, confirmed employees had today asked management for permission to hold a “peaceful gathering” in support of certain political parties.

Staff at Anantara Kihavah Villas had requested to conduct such a gathering in their uniforms, but were asked to wear their own clothing instead – which they agreed to, claimed a spokesperson for the company.

“However, the event, if it takes place at all, will be done during their break in between the working hours,” added the spokesperson, who said that all four of the company’s resorts were being operated as normal.”

“It is business as usual and there are no effects on the guest experience.”

The company said that staff at its Anantara Veli, Anantara Dhigu and Naladhu Maldives resorts had been allowed to take pictures of themselves holding political paraphernalia such as banners or balloons, as long they were not wearing uniforms or displaying the resort group’s brand name.

1:00pm Tourism Minister Adheeb alleged that despite fears that strike action could do a lot of damage to the country’s tourism industry, calls by associations like TEAM had so far had a limited response from resort employees.

“So far TEAM has not got a good response [for calls to strike],” he said.

“Is it so far, so good, we are trying to mediate in these cases,” added Adheeb, who is also Deputy Leader of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

The minister also questioned why strike action had not been targeted at other industries such as construction and fisheries in the country

12:56pm Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb today reiterated his belief that any strike action for “political reasons” at resort properties was illegal in the Maldives, while also criticising the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) for targeting the country’s lucrative travel industry.

“Making a protest at a resort is not the way to go,” he said today.