Goverment will enforce death penalty, declares President Yameen

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has declared that the Progressive Party of Maldives-led (PPM) coalition government will implement the death penalty despite international pressure.

Speaking at a campaign event for PPM MP Ahmed Mahloof in Male’ last night, President Yameen said his administration’s decision to enforce the death penalty was a “historic day” in the Maldives’ democracy.

“Enforcing the death penalty is not something I will do because I want to. This is a very difficult thing. This is not an easy thing to do for any president or [public] servant. But our society cannot bear the loss of a life as well as the opportunity for further loss of life as a result of not respecting [the value of a human life],” he said.

“For that reason, no matter how much I don’t want to do it or how difficult it is, I have to do this on behalf of the people as they have placed that trust in me.”

President Yameen revealed that the government had formulated regulations implementing capital punishment on Thursday, based on the advice of the cabinet.

The government decided to enforce the regulations to ensure the safety and security of the community, he said, adding that the public wished to see action taken to stop the “slaughter of innocent citizens.”

Moreover, a majority of the Maldivian people were in favour of introducing the death penalty despite opposition from international partners, Yameen contended.

He stressed that a convict would only be put to death in accordance with Islamic Shariah following due process through the courts.

At the final stage, he explained, the Supreme Court would decide whether capital punishment was warranted as qisas (retaliation).

Under the new regulations specifying procedures for enforcing the death penalty, President Yameen said that both the victim’s and the convict’s family would be consulted after the Supreme Court decision to see whether the former demanded the death penalty and not blood money as retaliation.

Following an order issued by Home Minister Umar Naseer in January to the Maldives Correctional Services for implementation of the death penalty through lethal injection, Amnesty International called upon the government to halt any plans to end the current moratorium on the death penalty.

The international human rights organisation described the possible reintroduction of capital punishment as a “retrograde step and a serious setback for human rights in the country”.

Meanwhile, President Yameen – on a state visit to Sri Lanka at the time of Naseer’s announcement – subsequently promised “broad discussions” on the issue in his cabinet.

Death sentences have traditionally been commuted to life sentences by presidential decree since the execution of Hakim Didi in 1954 for the crime of practising black magic.

The Maldives currently has 20 prisoners sentenced to death by the Criminal Court.


Parliament approves Habeeb to Elections Commission with unanimous consent

Parliament has approved Ismail Habeeb Abdul Raheem with 60 votes in favour and none against to the Elections Commission (EC) to replace former commission member Ibrahim ‘Ogaru’ Waheed.

Following Waheed’s resignation in October last year citing poor health, President Abdulla Yameen nominated three individuals to fill the vacancy on the five-member commission, submitting their names to the People’s Majlis.

All MPs belonging to the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in attendance today voted in favour of approving Habeeb to the post.

After interviewing Yameen’s nominees last night, the opposition-majority independent institutions oversight committee awarded Habeeb the highest marks and recommended approving his appointment to the commission.

Presenting the committee report (Dhivehi) to the Majlis floor today, Deputy Chair MP Rozaina Adam noted that one of the three nominees – former Deputy Commissioner of Police Mohamed Rishwan – did not turn up for the interview.

Meanwhile, after interviewing the third nominee, Mohamed Tholal – chair of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) elections committee – the committee learned that his wife was contesting in the upcoming parliamentary elections, Rozaina said.

Tholal had conceded that he could face a conflict of interest in EC decisions concerning the Maradhoo constituency poll, she added.

In the ensuing debate on the committee report, PPM MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur said there were “no questions about Ismail Habeeb’s competence” as he had previously served as the EC’s executive director and director general.

Habeeb was sacked from the EC in January 2013 before contesting his dismissal at the Labour Tribunal. The tribunal ordered his reinstatement in August 2013, by which time he has been appointed to the Civil Court as its senior administrator.

Government-aligned Maldives Development Alliance MP Ahmed Amir meanwhile accused former EC members of “favouring a particular political party”.

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party MP Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed asserted that EC President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz had become “sacrificial lambs”, and praised their “hard work and service to the nation.”

The EC members had worked “like slaves during the time of the Pharaoh” under difficult circumstances to ensure citizens’ right to vote, he said, adding that unfounded allegations against the pair were “shameful”.

The outcome of last year’s presidential poll would have been different if the allegations were true, Nasheed said.


Habeeb’s confirmation to the EC today follows the Supreme Court’s controversial removal of Thowfeek and Fayaz on Sunday on contempt of court charges.

The dismissals left the EC without the three members required for a quorum to hold meetings and approve decisions, raising doubts over the commission’s ability to prepare for and conduct the parliamentary elections as scheduled on March 22.

The Supreme Court judgment also ordered the executive, parliament, and the EC to “make all necessary arrangements” for the polls within six days.

While the President’s Office invited interested candidates to submit applications in the wake of the apex court ruling, Speaker Abdulla Shahid sent a letter to President Yameen, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz, and Attorney General Mohamed Anil contending that the dismissals were unconstitutional.

The letter – based on legal advice provided by parliament’s Counsel General Fathmath Filza – stated that the pair were removed in violation of procedures specified in both the constitution and the Elections Commission Act for the appointment and dismissal of EC members.

Based on the counsel general’s advice, the independent institutions committee decided that Thowfeek and Fayaz remained EC members and summoned all four commissioners to a closed-door session yesterday.

The oversight committee had also summoned members of the Judicial Service Commission to discuss the Supreme Court’s ‘sumoto’ regulations as well as possible actions against the apex court.

However, with the exception of Civil Service Commission Chair Dr Mohamed Latheef and Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman, JSC members refused to attend the meeting, citing short notice.

The oversight committee decided to summon members of the judicial watchdog body again on Friday (March 14).

Meanwhile, MDP Chairperson ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik told local media yesterday that the opposition party wished to see the Majlis elections take place as scheduled on March 22.

Moosa had adjourned an MDP national council meeting earlier this week without calling a vote on a proposal to boycott the polls, stating that the party’s 85 candidates should be consulted before approving such a decision.

The Hulhuhenveiru MP suggested that the polls could be held on March 22 if parliament approved a third member to the EC as most of the preparations had been completed.


EC dismissals: President pledges to abide by court ruling, criticises MDP boycott talk

President Abdulla Yameen has said the government will ensure that rule of law prevails, and that executive will respect and abide by Supreme Court rulings.

“God willing, my government will definitely uphold the rule of law. All entities of my government will abide by the Supreme Court ruling,” Yameen said last night.

Speaking at the campaign launching ceremony of ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) VilliMalé constituency candidate Ahmed Nihan, Yameen stated that it was not acceptable practice in “civilised societies” for other institutions to criticise decisions made by the Supreme Court.

However, when Nihan himself was asked about the courts decision on Sunday evening, the MP expressed his reluctance to make any comment.

“I would have to really think twice before I go ahead and say anything about the Supreme Court,” he said. “The Supreme Court may think that it’s a contempt of law if I said anything.”

Announcing that the President’s Office had called for applications to the vacant posts in the Elections Commission (EC), Yameen reiterated the government’s stand that it would complete all necessary preparations to hold the Majlis elections on March 22 as stipulated by the apex court’s ruling.

“We are working to ensure that we have some names by 3pm on Thursday. God willing, we will complete the work tasked to us by the Supreme Court within the six days they have assigned to us,” he continued.

Yameen stated that his government would not question verdicts released by the Supreme Court and that his administration had complete respect for the judges on the bench.

However, the president did admit that judicial reform must be discussed, adding that “this includes the issue of delays in case completion. Even MDP [opposition Maldivian Democratic Party] members will accept that there are some cases that have been halted midway.”

“Even President Nasheed himself will believe that there are certain cases which do not proceed at all in our judiciary,” said Yameen.

“You can’t achieve results by playing the game off the field”: Yameen

President Yameen further stated that he finds the tendency of first world countries to “interfere” in internal matters of small countries in a manner that contradicts “the lessons in governance that they continue to deliver” to be highly concerning.

“I have even previously stated when I was working in the presidential campaign that in our administration, we will maintain the independence and sovereignty of deciding on our internal affairs in Maldivian hands. God willing, our government will achieve that,” he stated.

Referring to the opposition party’s consideration of boycotting the upcoming parliamentary elections, Yameen argued that “you can’t achieve results by playing the game off the field”.

He called on the MDP members to participate in the elections and join the parliament if they wanted to bring reforms, especially to the judiciary.

“I want to say to all MDP members that the Maldives is a country belonging to every one of us. This is not particularly Adhaalath Party’s Maldives. Nor is it specifically PPM’s Maldives. Nor is it Jumhooree Party’s Maldives. And especially, this is not just the MDP’s Maldives. This country belongs to all of us,” Yameen stated.

He stated that the MDP should not resort to boycotting the elections, and must come out and vote. He added that it is crucial in a modern society to demonstrate via parliament how one should act when power begins from the people.

“Depriving membership for themselves from an institution elected for a five year term – depriving their members from their right to have their feelings expressed – this is not a manner in which a political party would act in a modern environment,” the president said.

Meanwhile, the MDP held a meeting of its National Council yesterday night with the intention of deciding whether or not to boycott the approaching polls.

While the meeting was closed to media, some local news outlets were able to report proceedings.

According to local media, two proposals were made at the meeting – former President Nasheed proposed boycotting the upcoming elections and protest the Supreme Court’s decision, while another unnamed member is said to have proposed that the party protest but that it still participate in the election.

The meeting was brought to a halt by Chairperson ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik citing differences of opinion, with a follow up meeting to be scheduled in the near future.


EC dismissals: Majlis says commissioners’ removal was unconstitutional

The People’s Majlis has written to the chief justice and the attorney general, stating that the president and vice president of the Election Commission (EC) were removed contrary to the constitutional procedures governing their appointment and dismissal.

The letter – signed by Speaker Abdulla Shahid and Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim – also noted that the move contravened the Elections Commission Act.

According to Majlis, the content of the letter was based on legal advice of parliament’s counsel general after her analysis of the Supreme Court’s verdict.

The Supreme Court yesterday sentenced EC President Fuwad Thowfeek to six months imprisonment under Article 88(a) of the penal code, and ordered the enforcement of the sentence be delayed for a period of three years.

The verdict also declared that Fuwad and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz had “lost the right and legal status to remain members of the commission and that the pair’s seats on the commission have become vacant”.

The letter stated that it was the People’s Majlis which is tasked with the appointment and removal of EC members, and that for any given reason a member of that commission can only be removed by a simple majority of votes in a parliament sitting as “clearly stated” in Article 177 of the constitution and Article 14 of the Elections Commission Act.

“Referring to the said article of the constitution and the elections commission act, it is clear that the authority to appoint and remove member from that commission is especially reserved for the People’s Majlis without the involvement of any other party.”

The letter also said that the removal of the pair by the Supreme Court contravenes the procedures specified in Article 177 of the constitution and Articles 5, 10, and 14 of the EC Act.

The letter referred to a number of statements from the Supreme Court’s verdict nullifying parliament’s removal of Mohamed Fahmy Hassan from the Civil Service Commission (CSC) in March last year.

The Majlis today noted that the constitutional procedures for removing EC members and CSC members were the same, saying that the court’s previous ruling had said the following:

“It is clear from the letter of the constitution that the constitution does not allow any of the three powers of the state to carry out the constitutional jurisdiction or functions of another, and that it is clearly stated that the system of separation of powers, and check and balance established between three powers by constitution is an principal feature of the constitutional system and the constitution of the Maldives.”

Referring to the same verdict, the letter said that the court had stated that “all powers of the state should fulfil their jurisdictions and functions within the constitutional limits set for that power by the constitution”.

The same ruling also stated that constitutional procedures regarding independent institutions are there to ensure their independence. In this regard, the verdict noted that tasking the executive with appointment, the parliament with removal and accountability, and the chief justice with oath taking are also check and balance procedures established under the constitutional principle of separation of powers.


Supreme Court strips Fuwad, Fayaz of EC membership

The Supreme Court has stripped Elections Commission (EC) President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz Hassan of their membership in the commission and sentenced the former to six months in jail.

The jail sentence was however suspended for three years.

The Supreme Court judgment also ordered the executive, parliament and the EC to “make all necessary arrangements” within six days to conduct the parliamentary elections as scheduled on March 22.

According to article 175 of the constitution, at least three members are required to “constitute a quorum at a meeting of the Elections Commission, and any decision of the Elections Commission shall be taken by a majority of votes of the members present and voting.”

With the Supreme Court’s removal of the EC’s president and his deputy, the remaining members are Ali Mohamed Manik and Mohamed Farooq.

Thowfeek was sentenced under article 88 of the penal code, which states that it is an offence to “disobey a lawful order”.

The Supreme Court summoned EC members on February 27 and began a surprise trial on charges of contempt of court under new ‘sumoto’ regulations that allow the apex court to initiate proceedings and act as both prosecution and judge.

Of the five judges on the bench hearing the case, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain and Justice Adam Mohamed Abdulla issued dissenting opinions.

The majority opinion was formed by Justice Abdulla Saeed, Justice Ali Hameed Mohamed, and Justice Ahmed Abdulla Didi.

Delivering the verdict, Justice Saeed contended that EC members had “openly and systematically” brought the Supreme Court into disrepute, “deliberately challenged Supreme Court rulings” and “serially held [the court] in contempt” during press conferences.

The EC’s announcement for dissolving political parties without a minimum membership of 3,000 was in violation of the Supreme Court judgment that struck down articles in the Political Parties Act, the verdict stated.

Moreover, Fuwad Thowfeek’s public statements against the Supreme Court’s “procedures and jurisdictions” contravened the Judicature Act and constituted an act in violation of article 141 of the constitution – which states, “No officials performing public functions, or any other persons, shall interfere with and influence the functions of the courts.”

The court determined that the president and vice president must bear responsibility for “disobeying and challenging” Supreme Court judgments and orders, which were issued in its capacity as “the guardian of the constitution.”

Fuwad and Fayaz’s actions also contravened article 145(c) – which states, “The Supreme Court shall be the final authority on the interpretation of the Constitution, the law, or any other matter dealt with by a court of law.”

The court ruled that the pair had “lost the right and legal status to remain members of the commission” and declared the seats vacant.

“Practical difficulties”

While testimony given to a parliamentary committee was used to implicate commission members of contempt of court at the second hearing, at the last hearing of the ‘sumoto’ trial on March 5 the Supreme Court imposed a travel ban on EC members pending a judgment.

Following the Supreme Court’s summoning of EC members last month, former President Mohamed Nasheed declared that the MDP will boycott the parliamentary elections if the court removes EC members.

The Supreme Court’s actions have also been been criticised by civil society and the European Union.

Speaking to Minivan News tonight, Thowfeek said he was unsure how the parliamentary polls could take place as scheduled in less than two weeks.

He noted that the president would have to invite applications from interested candidates for the three vacant EC posts and forward nominees to parliament, after which a parliamentary committee would evaluate the nominees ahead of a vote on the Majlis floor.

“It’s very difficult for me to say anything because the Supreme Court reason given for our punishment is because of when I spoke about the impracticality of the 16 point guidelines,” he said.

“When I talk about the practical difficulties, they say nobody is supposed to talk about the practical difficulties.”

Today’s Supreme Court judgment meanwhile stated that Thowfeek had admitted to attempting to hold the second round of last year’s presidential election despite a Supreme Court stay order halting the electoral process.

Following the first round in which former President Mohamed Nasheed emerged the frontrunner with 45.45 percent of the vote, third-placed candidate Gasim Ibrahim sought annulment of the results alleging widespread electoral fraud.

Pending a ruling on the business magnate’s appeal, the Supreme Court indefinitely suspended the second round scheduled for September 28 and issued a supplementary midnight ruling ordering the police and military to forcibly prevent the EC from conducting the polls.

The EC had said it intended to comply with the constitutionally-mandated deadline for the run-off, but was forced to capitulate after it was surrounded by special operations police with orders to storm the building, arrest officials and confiscate ballot papers.

On October 7, the Supreme Court annulled the results of the first round of the polls conducted on September 7 in a controversial 4-3 decision – citing a confidential police report – despite unanimous positive assessment of the polling by more than a thousand domestic and international election observers.

The eventual revote on October 19 was also obstructed by police, after Progressive Party of Maldives candidate Abdulla Yameen and Gasim refused to sign the voter registry – a requirement from a 16-point guideline imposed on the EC by the Supreme Court judgment.

* A previous version of this article stated that all four members were sentenced to jail. The Supreme Court verdict later shared with the media however stated that only Fuwad Thowfeek was sentenced.


Police appeal against campaign obstruction

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) has been receiving complaints that candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections are being prevented from disembarking on some islands for campaigning.

Police noted in a statement that the constitution guarantees the right to free expression for all citizens as well as the “freedom to enter, remain in and leave the Maldives, and to travel within the Maldives.”

Obstruction of campaigning is an offence under election laws, police stated, urging candidates and political parties to ensure that the run-up to the March 22 polls is smooth and peaceful.


Coalition leaders urge independent candidates to withdraw

Leaders of the ruling Progressive Coalition have urged members of coalition parties running as independents in the upcoming parliamentary elections to withdraw their candidacies.

Speaking at a campaign event in Malé on Thursday night, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom expressed “regret” with coalition supporters contesting as independents.

The vote being split among pro-government candidates could see “candidates we don’t want” finishing top, the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) leader warned.

Gayoom called on independent candidates to drop out of the race and endorse the coalition’s official candidates.

He went on to thank independent candidates who have recently endorsed PPM contestants ahead of the polls scheduled for March 22.

Former PPM youth wing leader, Ibrahim Nazim – who was contesting as an independent in the mid-Henveiru constituency – endorsed PPM candidate Aishath Leeza last week.

The three parties in the Progressive Coalition – PPM, Jumhooree Party (JP) and Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) – reached an agreement to allocate constituencies among the coalition partners with the PPM contesting 50 seats, JP contesting 28 seats, and the MDA contesting seven seats.


Speaking at Thursday’s night campaign event for PPM Hithadhoo North candidate Al Ibrahim, Home Minister Umar Naseer – who was dismissed from the now-ruling party in April 2013 – said that members of coalition parties were contesting as independents in 64 constituencies.

Such candidates were claiming to represent their parties despite the coalition fielding a candidate from a different party, Naseer said.

He warned that candidates from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) could benefit in cases where the vote was divided among pro-government candidates.

In the first-past-the-post Majlis elections, candidates would not need to secure 50 percent of the vote to be elected.

Meanwhile, in a campaign rally in Alif Dhaalu Dhagethi last night, JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim reportedly accused independent candidate Ahmed Thoriq ‘Tom’ – a national team football player –  in the Alif Dhaal Mahibadhoo constituency of falsely claiming to represent the PPM.

The Mahibadhoo constituency was reserved for the PPM in the coalition seat allocation deal.

Gasim said he visited the island this weekend with two PPM council members – MPs Ahmed Nihan and Ahmed Mahloof – to explain to PPM supporters that Tom was not campaigning on behalf of the party.

The business magnate and former presidential candidate said he was confident that the PPM would not field candidates in constituencies ceded to the JP.

In the wake of January’s local council election, President Abdulla Yameen told the press that party members who contested as independents cost the ruling coalition a number of seats.

President Yameen claimed that 85 percent of independent candidates for local councils were PPM members.

PPM members decided to contest as independent candidates in constituencies reserved for the JP, Yameen explained, despite instructions from the party.

“Similarly, a JP member contested as an independent for the Addu atoll mid-constituency where our candidate got the ticket and contested,” he added.

Two sides of the scale

Returning to a central theme of last year’s presidential campaign in his speech Thursday night, former President Gayoom said voters were offered a choice between stability and defending Islam on the one hand and drugs and anti-Islamic behaviour on the other.

Referring to the MDP’s slogan of “vote for the scale of justice,” Gayoom said voters must choose which side of the scale to support.

On the PPM’s side was protecting Islam, the rights of citizens and the nation’s independence and sovereignty as well as progress, development, peace and consolidating democracy, he contended.

The main opposition party has meanwhile been campaigning on a platform of judicial reform, empowering local councils, and government accountability.

In his speech last night, Gasim expressed confidence that the JP would secure 25 seats from the 28 constituencies the party was contesting.

While JP MPs would back the PPM-led coalition government for the next five years, Gasim said the party could not accept unlawful actions from the government.

“If things are done against the law or by deceiving the public, we are going to have to the push the necessary button. That is the responsibility of Majlis members as stated in the constitution,” Gasim reportedly said.


Civil Court rejects MP Alhan’s request for injunction suspending candidacy of MDP Feydhoo ticket winner

The Civil Court has ruled today that it does not have the jurisdiction to grant an injunction suspending the candidacy of the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) Feydhoo primary winner.

The decision (Dhivehi) came in a lawsuit filed by Feydhoo MP Alhan Fahmy against the MDP seeking annulment of the opposition party’s primary for the Feydhoo constituency in Addu City.

Alhan lost the MDP’s primary to Mohamed Nihad last month by a 162 vote margin and challenged the results on the grounds that the voter list was outdated and did not include 67 new members. He also alleged electoral fraud in the Feydhoo poll.

Alhan had asked the court to order the Elections Commission (EC) to suspend Nihad’s candidacy pending a judgment on the legitimacy of the primary contest.

Judge Ali Naseer however ruled that cases concerning the candidacy of persons standing for parliament was in the jurisdiction of the High Court under the Judicature Act and the General Elections Act.

Lawyers representing the MDP reportedly did not attend this morning’s hearing.

Judge Naseer said that the party will be given an opportunity to respond to the allegations of fraud at the next trial date.

At yesterday’s hearing, the party’s legal team raised a procedural issue contending that the court could not hear the case as Alhan had not completed the appeals process through the party’s internal mechanisms.

The judge however dismissed the procedural point and ruled that the court could proceed with the case. He noted that as the MP could no longer submit a complaint to the party’s appeals committee, dismissing the case would deprive Alhan of his constitutional right to a fair trial.

The MDP has since appealed the ruling at the High Court.

While Alhan had first filed his case at the High Court, the court’s registrar informed his lawyers that it could not hear cases involving internal elections conducted by political parties.

Alhan was stabbed in a restaurant in Male’ on February 1 and returned to the Maldives on Friday (March 1) after undergoing treatment in Sri Lanka.

The incumbent MP is contesting the upcoming parliamentary elections as an independent candidate.

Last August, Alhan was summoned by police in connection with the alleged blackmailing of Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed, using footage of the judge having sex with three prostitutes in a Sri Lankan hotel.

The MP tweeted a screenshot of a text message he claimed had been sent to his mobile phone by Superintendent of Police Mohamed Riyaz. The text read: “Alhan, will make sure you are fully famed (sic) for blackmailing Justice Ali Hameed. You don’t know who we are.’’


Over 62,000 voters re-registered for parliamentary elections

The Elections Commission (EC) has stated that over 62,000 re-registration forms submitted by voters for the March 22 parliamentary elections in have now been processed and approved.

Re-registration is required for all those wishing to vote in a location other than their official place of residence.

EC Secretary General Asim Abdula Sattar confirmed that the forms of over one quarter of eligible voters have been approved since re-registration commenced on February 18. Local media has, however, reported that the forms processed so far are only those submitted in the capital city Malé.

Quoting a media official from the EC, the report states that re-registration forms submitted in the atolls, as well as to consulates in other countries, are still to be processed.

The EC announced that it would be allowing the amended forms to be submitted between 10am and 4pm on Monday (March 3).

Asim Abdul Sattar stated that the commission was currently in the process of returning rejected forms to the applicants.

“We are aiming to finish returning the rejected forms today itself. We will then review amended forms which are resubmitted tomorrow and accept them if it meets all requirements,” Asim stated.

He said that forms which were submitted and then rejected for any reason whatsoever can be resubmitted with the required amendments. However, forms cannot be submitted anew if it the original form was handed in within the initial time frame.

The commission stated that diplomatic offices in countries where ballot boxes will be placed will also accept amended re-registration forms on Monday.

The EC has previously revealed that there are over 240,000 eligible voters for the upcoming elections – the second since the country’s transition to multi-party democracy in 2008. A total of 302 candidates are contesting for 85 parliamentary seats.

The commission revealed last week that, despite new financial restrictions at the Ministry of Finance, it anticipated the March 22 poll would go ahead as scheduled.

Concern has been raised both internationally and at home over the EC’s independence as the Supreme Court pursues contempt of court and disobedience to order charges against the four commission members.

Commission members attended the court yesterday to sign statements relating to the previous hearing (February 17), explained EC Director General Mohamed Shakeel. The last hearing – the second since the charges were announced and proceedings begun within one day – saw the bench rule as admissible testimony normally protected under parliamentary privilege.

No date has been set for subsequent hearings, said Shakeel.