Civil society joins criticism of Supreme Court’s actions against EC

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Civil society groups in the Maldives have added their voices to the growing concern over the Supreme Court’s actions against the Elections Commission (EC).

“The Maldivian Democracy Network and the Maldives NGO Federation are gravely concerned by the recent proceedings initiated by the Supreme Court of the Maldives against the members of the Elections Commission of the Maldives,” read a joint press release today.

After using newly introduced procedures to both initiate and oversee contempt of court charges against the EC, the court has subsequently deemed privileged Majlis testimony to be admissible in the case.

Today’s statement closely follows that of the EU’s Sri Lanka delegation which yesterday called upon the government to ensure the commission’s independence ahead of the March 22 Majlis elections.

Recalling the recent controversies surrounding the 2013 presidential election, the NGO statement argued these events had come at a “great cost to the state and the people”.

“We strongly urge all parties to ensure that the upcoming parliamentary elections are efficient, independent and fair. Any hindrance by any party to this process would be undemocratic and unfair for the people of the Maldives.”

The court’s decision to bring the charges of contempt of court refer to criticism of the decision to annul last September’s presidential election first round. The annulment was followed by further cancelled and delayed polls after much wrangling over the court’s new election guidelines.

The EC has also been accused of disobeying a Supreme Court order by dissolving eight political parties earlier this month.

The NGO statement has today referred to the 16 point guidelines as “onerous” and “controversial”.

Supreme Court must earn respect, say NGOs

Describing the current court case as “unjust”, runner-up in the presidential poll Mohamed Nasheed has said that his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) will not compete next month’s vote should the four EC members be removed.

Following today’s second EC advisory committee meeting in preparations for the March vote, MDP Spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said that the commission owed MVR12 million in pending bills after delays at the Finance Ministry.

Hamid reported, however, that the EC was confident the elections would proceed as scheduled.

The civil society statement noted that the decision to use testimony protected under the constitution had overstepped the court’s boundaries as the ultimate interpreter of the constitution.

Claiming establishing justice to be a tenet of Islam, Supreme Court Judge Ahmed Abdulla Didi has said the EC’s testimony at the independent commissions oversight committee obstructed justice and could be used in a court.

The court has said that no party has the authority to question or criticise its decisions as per Article 145 (c) of the constitution.

“The Elections Commission has been established in very clear terms by the Constitution of the Maldives as an independent institution with its oversight assigned to the people through their representatives in the People’s Majlis,” read today’s NGO press release.

“Writing this criteria in the Constitution cannot bring independence to an institution if it cannot be practiced and fully respected. Similarly, respect for an institution is not inherent to being a part of the Constitution. The Supreme Court must, as every other institution, earn the respect of the people.”


Maldives NGO Federation criticises political parties attacks on Elections Commission

Additional reporting by Ahmed Nazeer

The Maldives NGO Federation has expressed concern that political parties are 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.

The Maldives NGO Federation, representing over 60 local civil society organisations, issued a press release Sunday (August 18) that declared their confidence in the EC and noted the essential role the commission has played in holding free and fair elections over the past five years.

The organisation also highlighted concerns that some political parties have been trying to discredit the EC “so close” to the scheduled September 7 election.

“We are concerned about attacks by political parties on the Elections Commission,” NGO Federation President Ahmed Nizam told Minivan News today (August 19).

The organisation has called on all the political parties and government institutions not to do anything that will that will obstruct the EC from holding free and fair elections.

Furthermore, the NGO Federation appealed to everyone to cooperate with the EC to ensure the upcoming presidential election is free and fair.

Political party complaints, threats of legal action

The NGO Federation’s appeal follows a series of complaints about the EC issued by the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the Jumhoree Party (JP).

The PPM has claimed their concerns with the EC have gone “unaddressed” and so are now seeking a legal resolution, PPM vice presidential candidate and former Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed told local media in Addu City yesterday (August 18).

While Jameel did not explain what the PPM’s specific course of action against the EC will be, he noted that the party was questioning the commission’s independence for three reasons.

“The first and the biggest problem is the questions surrounding the validity of the electoral register. In that regard, problems had been noted similar to what happened before. The reason is whether the IT system established in that place is secure enough to ensure that no one can alter the list. But they couldn’t give us that assurance,” Jameel said.

“On top of that, we hear that outsiders are active inside the elections commission. Such things create more apprehension. But so far it remains unclear what their purpose is,” he added.

Last week, PPM and JP filed a complaint against the EC’s Legal Director Haneefa Khalid, for alleged political tweeting ahead of the upcoming presidential election.

Mahloof singled out one he claimed had offended PPM President and former 30-year autocratic ruler, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The EC is currently investigating the matter and said it will take administrative action should it find the need to do so.

PPM Spokesperson MP Ahmed Mahloof told local media the party’s main concern was that Khalid was the wife of Dr Ahmed Ashraf, who contested the by-election of parliament’s Ungoofaaru constituency on a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) ticket following the murder of sitting MP Dr Afrashim Ali. The election was won by the PPM by a narrow margin of 81 votes.

On the same day, the Attorney General’s office began probing a disciplinary case concerning Khalid following a complaint filed against her by the Maldives Police Service (MPS). The MPS filed the complaint after Khalid “addressed the police disrespectfully” while she was inside a Male’ jail meeting a client whom she had been representing in court, according to local media.

In early August, PPM and JP lodged a complaint with the EC expressing their fears foreign nationals will have access to the Maldives’ voter database for upcoming polling, as it seeks assistance from Indian IT professionals to set up software to help oversee future council elections.

In response, the EC met with a “combined team” representing the JP and PPM to dismiss any fears, adding that only local EC staff had access to sensitive information and the commission’s security systems.

“We explained to them that the Indian team would not be working on systems being used for the upcoming presidential election. They will instead be providing assistance to help develop a program for future elections,” said EC President Fuwad Thowfeek.

The PPM and JP had challenged the possibility of holding free and fair elections scheduled for September 7 this year if foreigners could access the electoral database and other systems, local media reported previously.

Additionally, in late July the PPM requested the EC not reject voter registration forms missing details such as the name of a voter’s parents or a phone number, that could not be verified during random checks.

The EC rejected the request to make voter registration more “lenient” and noted at the time that no “official complaints” had been filed with the commission over its ability to capably oversee the upcoming presidential election, despite the PPM alleging in local media that it was incapable of ensuring a fair vote.

PPM Council member and Youth Minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef was quoted in local media the same week calling for “major reforms” to the commission, which he alleged lacked the capacity to oversee fair voting.


Police special operation nets 22 gang suspects

In a highly-publicised special operation intended to reduce gang crime in the capital Male’, police arrested 22 men suspected of being key players in gang violence.

Police sub inspector Ahmed Shiyam said the men were arrested in different areas of Male’ are were notable “gangsters” involved in gang violence.

Shiyam also said police had collected chairs, sofas and weapons from places where gangs lived, to stop gang members congregating, storing them in the police tow yard.

He said the special operation to protect Male’ from gang violence would not to be stopped until the city became a peaceful place.

Meanwhile, a group of NGOs including the Maldivian Detainee Network, Transparency Maldives, Rights for All, Strength of Society, Maldives Aid, Madulu, Democracy house and NGO Federation released a statement condemning the recent rise in gang violence in Male’.

The NGO’s reported that police statistics show that during last year there were 12 murder cases reported to police and 11 of them were sent to Prosecutor General’s office.

The NGOs called on the president and parliament to pass the necessary bills as soon as possible to avoid gang violence.

They furthermore called on the government institutions concerned with gang crime to fulfill their responsibilities.