Maldives set for polls after months of turmoil and brinksmanship

Additional reporting by Ahmed Naish

Voting stations will be open November 9 from 7:00am to 3:30pm. Counting will begin half an hour after polls close, with provisional results expected by 11:30pm. A run off will be scheduled for November 10 if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the total votes.

Overseas ballot boxes will open at varying times in each country: Sri Lanka, New Delhi and Trivandrum – 8:00am to 4:30pm; Malaysia and Singapore – 10:30am to 7:00pm; London 9:00am to 5:30pm.

Check where you are registered to vote using the EC’s 1414 SMS system (text 1414 in the format ‘VIS [National ID #]’, or by visiting

The Maldives is set to head to the polls on November 9 after months of political turmoil and brinksmanship over the suspension, delay, annulment and obstruction of the 2013 presidential election.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed, ousted from power on February 7 2012 by a mutinying police force that attacked military headquarters, armed opposition demonstrators and stormed the state broadcaster before giving him an ultimatum to resign, emerged the clear front-runner in September’s polls with 45.45 percent of the vote.

Nasheed was set to face Abdulla Yameen (25.35 percent), half brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in a run-off on September 28. However the vote was suspended by the Supreme Court after third-placed candidate, resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim (24.07 percent), filed a case alleging vote rigging – despite unanimous positive assessments by more than 1000 local and international election observers.

Gasim was joined in court by Yameen and the Attorney General, Gayoom’s former lawyer Azima Shukoor. Despite a sex video scandal impinging the integrity of at least one judge on the seven member bench, the court on October 8 in a 4-3 majority annulled the vote on the basis of a secret police report that was never even shown to the defence counsel, let alone the public.

That report, since leaked (and translated here), was this morning dismissed by an expert UN review panel.

Following the annulment, the same court held a succession of midnight hearings imposing increasing sets of restrictions on the Elections Commission’s conduct of the polls, including demands that it redo the entire voter re-registration process, and conduct extensive fingerprint verification of forms when no institution in the country had the capacity to do so on such a scale.

One of these restrictions, giving candidates the power to veto the polls by not signing the voter lists – was used by the police as justification for forcibly obstruction the rescheduled election from taking place on October 19, after Yameen and Gasim disappeared and failed to answer phone calls ahead of the signing deadline.

The court’s annulment followed two weeks of street protestsstrikes,travel warnings and rumblings of concern from top ranks in the military.

The question in recent weeks, both on Male’s streets and in diplomatic circles, has not been “Who will win the election?”, but instead, “Will there be an election at all?”

“Will there be an election?”

That may finally have been answered after international patience with the delaying tactics appeared to run out last week.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay accused the Maldives’ Supreme Court of interfering excessively in the elections, “subverting the democratic process and violating the right of Maldivians to freely elect their representatives.”

“I am normally the first to defend the independence of the judiciary, but this also carries responsibilities… The Supreme Court appears set on undermining other independent institutions, stifling criticism and public debate, and depriving litigants of the legal representation of their choice,” Pillay stated.

US Ambassador Michele J Sison declared that after “weeks of political bickering and questionable delaying tactics, Maldives democracy is now in peril.”

“Further delays in Maldivian Presidential elections and continued misuse of institutions have already led many in the international community to question the legitimacy of both the process, as well as the outcome of those elections,” she stated.

“Ultimately, the power of any government rests in the consent of its people. If citizens are not allowed to freely express their desires, then those that pretend to govern cannot be perceived as having legitimacy to govern,” she said, calling on Maldivians to “salvage their democratic future”.

The UK’s Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Hugo Swire, declared in British parliament that “Anything short of [scheduled elections] will be unacceptable. I say again to those people listening in the Maldives: the world is watching closely and it wants democratic elections, a democratically elected president and no further impediment to that to be created artificially by anyone in that country, which deserves so much better.”

British MP Karen Lumley went a step further: “What happened smacks to me of a child who cannot win a board game, so they tip over the board,” she said of the decision to annul the September 7 vote.

Following a visit to Male’ this week, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco declared Saturday a “decisive moment for democracy in the Maldives.”

“It is time to allow the people of the Maldives to express their voice and their legitimate will through the ballot box. A continued failure to do so would be a serious setback to consolidating democracy in the country, with potentially serious repercussions, including a very likely negative impact on the already fragile economy,” he warned.

Surprisingly, the final major obstacle to the holding of tomorrow’s polls – Yameen and Gasim’ s continued refusal to sign the voter lists – suddenly evaporated on Wednesday night following the pair’s meeting with Nasheed and President Waheed.

“We made this difficult decision because of the rising anxiety of citizens and the financial loss faced by the state every day that the vote is delayed, to minimise foreign influence on this beloved nation, and to provide the party’s utmost cooperation to elect a president by November 11 by compromising to prioritise national interest ahead of the party’s interest,” read a statement from Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM).

The party insists it remains skeptical of the Elections Commission and the integrity of the polls.

Gasim meanwhile told local media he had suddenly reversed his decision not to cooperate in an effort to save the nation from “starvation”.

“The country should not be impoverished because of our bickering at this stage. So as the country has reached this state I don’t want to be obstinate and refuse to sign the list,” he said.

He continued to allege that the EC was “biased” and seeking to install Nasheed as president, despite asserting “100 percent” confidence that he would win.

Nasheed was blunt: “The truth is they finally signed the voter list because a German tourist agency told them to.”

An economic resolution

If a political resolution solution was not found and the country plunged into electoral and constitutional limbo, the final resolution was always going to be economic.

The dire state of the Maldives’ financial affairs was revealed this week by Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad, in a report to parliament’s finance committee.

Tourism growth (as measured in bed nights) flatlined in 2012, plunging to negative 0.1 percent from 15.8 percent growth in 2010 and 9.2 percent in 2011.

“The main reason for this was the political turmoil the country faced in February 2012 and the decline in the number of days tourists spent in the country,” the ministry’s statement acknowledged.

Activists this week hijacked World Travel Market twitter hashtag, flooding the feed of the world’s largest tourism expo with images of political brutality and calls for boycotts of Gasim’s Villa Hotel group.

Foreign banks have meanwhile refused to buy treasury bills (T-bills) from the Maldives, with some even refusing to roll over previously-sold T-bills, while others only agreed to buy them at interest rates of 11 percent, Jihad conceded.

While MVR500 million (US$32 million) a month was needed to pay salaries and allowances for state employees, government income in some months was just MVR300 million (US$19 million), Jihad noted, leaving the government no option but to draw on the central bank’s reserves.

Central Bank governor Fazeel Najeeb meanwhile warned that these reserves – barely several months worth of imports – had fallen so low as to place the Maldives on the verge of having to print money.

The State Trading Organisation (STO) then declared that oil supplies would run dry as soon as November 10 due to its US$20 million debt to suppliers, largely a result of the failure of state-owned companies to front up almost US$40 million in payments, and begged the central bank to bail it out.

The Maldives is dependent on oil for tourism, fishing, power and transport, with petroleum imports amounting to US$248.4 million in the first half of 2013 – representing 29 percent of the cost of all goods brought into the country.

A day later, the European Union rejected the Maldives’ application for an extension of duty free status for fish imports, due to country’s failure to comply with international conventions concerning freedom of religion and women’s rights.

The Maldives exports 40 percent of its US$100 million fishing industry to the EU, its single largest export partner by value. The imposing of the 14-20 percent duty as of January 2014 would lead to a loss of US$1.66 a kilo exported, revealed Economic Development Minister Ahmed Mohamed.

On his last day in office, President Mohamed Waheed meanwhile approved the lump sum payment of three months’ wages to cabinet ministers, a total expenditure of MVR 2 million (US$129,702).

“Who will win?”

With the registries signed, election materials have been dispatched across the Maldives with officials already arriving with ballot papers in the southern-most atolls of Addu and Fuvahmulah.

Transparency Maldives has announced it is ready to monitor the elections, while elections observation teams from the Commonwealth, UN, EU and countries including India and Japan are present in the country. Elections Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek told local media he has been assured by Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim that police would cooperate with tomorrow’s election.

The number of eligible voters in the revote is 239,105, just a few hundred short of the 239,593 registered to vote on September 7, which saw an 88 percent voter turnout.

Campaigning by Yameen and Gasim during the court saga has been muted compared with the lead up to September 7, while the MDP has maintained regular rallies and protest actions following the annulment.

The impact of the annulment and attempts to delay the polls, as well as the behaviour of the Supreme Court and international opprobrium on voter sentiment makes it difficult to predict support for Yameen and Gasim based on the results of the first round. This is especially true in the case of Gasim, whose energetic, incentive-based campaigning ahead of the first round appears to have been diluted by the focus on the court trial.

Foreknowledge of the annulled first round results may also impact non-committal voters in unpredictable ways.

Following the results of the first round, in which the incumbent President received just 5.13 percent of the vote, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) which had been in coalition with Waheed defected to Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Waheed withdrew from the race.

Based on the results of the first round this could be expected to lend up to five percent to the MDP, helping the party close on the more than 50 percent of the vote it so confidently predicted it would achieve ahead of September 7.

Minivan News will be covering the November 9 election via live news blog.


Comment: No need for Speaker to take charge if elections held, results respected

The Maldives’ Constitution (Article 4) is very clear that our country is a democracy in which all the powers of the State are derived from and remain with the citizens.

In particular legislative power (the power to enact laws that govern our society) lies with a democratically-elected parliament while executive power (the power to act as executor of those laws and see the will of the people reflected in the governing of the country) should lie with a democratically-elected president.

Unfortunately, since the coup of February 2012 we have seen power flicker from one unelected institution to another, in complete disregard of the will of the people as voiced in the 2008 elections: from an unelected president to an unelected supreme court, and from an unelected police commissioner to an unelected attorney-general.

It is now time to place power back in the hands of the citizens. The 88 percent voter turnout in the September 7 polls was that power. It is imperative that November 9’s elections proceed peacefully and with the full cooperation and goodwill of all political parties and State institutions, including the police.

Certain political leaders, as well as members of the Supreme Court, have treated voters with a level of contempt that beggars belief – asking citizens to vote, and when they didn’t like the result, asking them to vote again, and again, and again.

As the UK’s MP for Redditch, Karen Lumley suggested during the Westminster Hall debate on the Maldives this week, this has been like “watching a child who cannot win at a board game tip over the board”.

If our stroppy candidates (who could put Fagin to shame), and their gang of police boys, discredited judges and the unloved President allow these elections to go ahead, and this time they do respect the result, then we will not enter a constitutional void and it will not be necessary for the parliament as the only body in the Maldives which has been democratically elected in a free and fair vote, through the person of the Speaker, to assume executive control.

If, however, unelected individuals once again demonstrate contempt for democracy, if they once again decide that the powers of the State reside with them and not with the citizens, then parliament will be forced to step in as per the Majlis resolution of October 27th 2013.

The Speaker, as the last remaining democratically elected head of the last remaining democratically elected body must take over the interim presidency and ensure a free and fair vote for the people of the Maldives.

To quote President Nasheed, “there is no Houdini to pull the rabbit out of the hat. No magic tricks. No improvisations. We follow the Constitution. We follow the spirit and letter of the Constitution.”

Eva Abdulla is the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP for Galolhu North, and Asia-Pacific Member of the IPU Committee for Women MPs

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Waheed threatens candidates with resignation should they not agree to polls: The Hindu

Under siege by the international community for failing to hold the re-scheduled first round of Presidential polls on Saturday, Maldivian President Mohamed Waheed said that it was “in the interest of the country that an election was not forced” on it, in an interview with R. K. Radhakrishnan of The Hindu.

So did police overreach its mandate in holding the Elections Commission officials hostage early on Saturday morning? “Clearly the police also felt that they were also breaking the law if they went ahead. And we believe that in the greater interest of peace and security, it is important for us to have better consensus among the candidates and the institutions so that we can have a peaceful election,” he said.

Mr Waheed said he had stayed away from leading the poll process since he was candidate in the first round. “Until now I was in the backseat. Now, I feel I have to give more direction and help the process,” he said, and added that a new President will be elected and he will take office by November 11.

He would work to make the poll process free, fair and inclusive. He said that he would be able to convince all candidates to agree. If they did not, he said he would use the resignation card: “I will tell them I will resign, and then, so will the Vice-President. After that, the responsibility will fall on the Speaker [to assume office as President as per the Maldivian Constitution].”

Asked if he will stay on after November 11 in a scenario where the elections have not been held, he said: “I am not comfortable to stay on. It would be my preference that there be an elected President. And it would also be my preference that if this is not possible, then there would be some other arrangement made.”

Full story


Maldivians “hungry to vote”, Nasheed tells rivals: “Please don’t hide”

Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed has called on Elections Commission (EC) President Fuwad Thowfeek to proceed with the presidential election scheduled for tomorrow (October 19), should the Supreme Court not clarify what the EC must do in the event of presidential candidates refusing to approve the voter registry.

Nasheed – the Maldives’ first democratically elected president – was ousted amid a police and military mutiny of February 2012, but emerged the front-runner with 45.45 percent in elections held on September 7.

However, the Supreme Court annulled the first round citing vote fraud, and gave the EC a 12-day time limit to hold a revote. In its verdict, SC delineated 16 guidelines including compiling a new voter registry, new re-registration process, and approval of voter registry by all candidates contesting in the election.

The Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and Jumhooree Party (JP) this morning refused to approve the new voter registry, demanding verification of fingerprinted re-registration forms. The EC has said the task is “impossible” as the commission does not have the capacity to do so. Meanwhile, the police have told the EC they would not support the election without  all candidates approving the voter registry. The Supreme Court guidelines do not say what the EC must do should candidates refuse to approve list.

Nasheed’s representatives, EC officials and Department of National Registration (DNR) officials are currently at the EC signing and fingerprinting the voter lists for 470 ballot boxes.

Speaking to the press outside the EC today, Nasheed said that an election by October 20 is “paramount” to the Supreme Court guidelines, and hence the EC must proceed with elections preparations and stand ready to hold elections as scheduled until the Supreme Court clarifies what the EC must do, or until the PPM and JP approve the list.

“One of the views is that there is an obligation on the Elections Commissioner to have the elections on the 19th by the Supreme Court order. There are altogether 16 points in the guidelines. One of the points is to have the elections. Of course that is the most paramount of all the guidelines, just to have the elections. In having the election, the Supreme Court goes on to say what else has to be done. One of those things is to get the candidates to sign the voter’s list.”

“My view is that the Elections Commissioner must be ready and all the voting booths must be open at the time, but voting can begin when the Supreme Court either clarifies what they are talking about, which is signing the list or when the candidates sign the list,” he said.

If the Supreme Court does not clarify what the Elections Commission must do, President of the Commission Fuwad Thowfeek “has an obligation to go ahead with the vote”, Nasheed said.

“Logistically it is very possible. The Elections Commissioner has all the lists. He has all the arrangements ready at hand. There is no island in the Maldives that cannot be reached within three to four hours,” he added.

The EC at a press conference this morning said the commission is ready to hold the re-run of the presidential election’s first round tomorrow as soon as the candidates approve the voter registry. Ballot boxes have been shipped to London, Singapore, New Delhi, and Malaysia.

The commission said it has called, texted,  and sent officials to individual’s houses – as well as to the homes of JP representatives Umar Naseer and Hassan Shah, and PPM representative Ahmed Ilham – but has received no answer.

The PPM and JP have said they would approve lists only if the EC verified 10 percent and 5 percent of re-registration forms respectively. The commission has said “the impossible task” would take at least 20 days as the EC does not have the capacity to cross check fingerprints and must hand the task over to the police.

Nasheed appeal to his rivals to contest tomorrow’s elections, stating “the people of the Maldivians are hungry for a vote. Please come and sign these lists. Please don’t run away. Please don’t hide. Come out and give us this fight.”

“I refuse to give up hope. I believe we will have the elections tomorrow,” Nasheed told the press on Friday afternoon.

Nasheed also criticised his former deputy and current President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan for not doing enough to ensure polls proceeded as planned.

“I think Waheed has an obligation to facilitate the elections commission to go ahead with the elections. We want to see more robust engagement of Dr Waheed in this process and we are not seeing that now and that is very sad,” he said.

Waheed released a statement this morning urging parties “not to act in a fashion that obstructs holding of the election and to prioritise national interest over personal interest”.


Carnival atmosphere in Male’ as capital prepares for polls

Votes on Male are divided for Saturday’s presidential election, however ‘Nasheed’ and ‘Yameen’ are the two names on people’s minds as they look forward to a resolution of the 18-month campaign season.

Forty-eight year-old shop owner Ahmed asserts that former president and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate Mohamed Nasheed, and Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) candidate Abdulla Yameen, are the two most likely winners of Saturday’s election, but believes that the final decision will be made in a second round.

“The candidates are equal right now,” he said, suggesting that Yameen and Jumhoree Party candidate Gasim Ibrahim had conducted the most effective campaigns “because they have the money… to spend on traveling to the islands.”

To the Maldives’ 350,000 citizens, the four presidential candidates’ personal and political histories are familiar tales. For one middle-aged man surveyed on Majeedhee Magu, the present campaign cannot undo past experiences.

“Anni’s [Nasheed] campaign is most effective, he is good for campaigning but not for the presidency,” he said. He firmly believes that the MDP executed the most effective campaign, but feels that Nasheed’s actions during his presidency have lost him the vote to PPM’s Yameen.

“We have seen 30 years [under PPM president and former president Maumoon Gayoom, Yameen’s half brother]. And then we saw Nasheed’s three years. In these last three years we didn’t see development,” he said. “Giving my mom MVR 2,000 (US$130) is not development. Giving insurance to buy Panadol pills for my mom is not development either. I do believe Nasheed is the one who can bring the development we desire, but the way his Aasandha [health insurance] program and other policies are organised is not helping the most needy.”

The man explained that his request for then-president Nasheed’s help for his dying 18-year-old son elicited only a letter from the party stating that “the Attorney General has instructed them not to spend on anything beside state expenses.”

Across town, 49-year-old Asfari anticipates a 70 percent win for Nasheed in the first round, but allows that Yameen was the likely runner up. “He is the second-best man to be president,” she said.

For some, familiarity generates confidence; for others, apathy.

“Politics gives me a headache,” declared a middle-aged female shop owner.

Some youth surveyed were similarly apathetic.

“In my thinking there is no candidate that is suitable for the election,” said Naushad, age 22, adding that alienation of the young generation was a key factor. “Politics will destroy the country, 100 percent.”

Twenty-three year-old voter Ahamed said the campaigns “were really good, but some of them have been using money and buying people’s vote.”

Although he intends to vote, he expressed frustration with the way that voters we reacting towards free handouts.

“Most of the people just take it. If they’re given money, they don’t see the disadvantages of it… but the campaign will affect the votes, obviously. Some will even feel guilty when they vote.”

Ahamed pointed out that party manifestos have become another means of buying votes.

“One of my friends is voting just because one candidate promised to give a salary to all the national chess players,” he explained.

Of surveyed youth who said they will vote, most self-identified as MDP supporters who anticipated a sweeping win on Saturday.

Rhombus employee Ibrahim, age 23, expects MDP “will win 100 percent”. In a nearby shop Ahmed Ibrahim, age 19, declared “this is the young generation voting for Anni [Nasheed].”

Ahmed works on a safari boat that was recently chartered for President Waheed’s campaign tour in Gaaf Dhaal Atoll. He said he is tired of “chaos and fighting” and that if Nasheed is elected “everything will go back to normal and the Maldives will [progress].”

While many youth surveyed cited general hopes for calm and progress, a few highlighted the importance of a manifesto.

“I wouldn’t vote if there wasn’t a manifesto,” said Ahamed, noting that MDP’s manifesto was a “very different, good and cost-effective manifesto.”

Shauna Rashid, age 18, said that as a student she sides with MDP for its position on education.

Peaceful polls, but “we had a coup”

Security preparations for the election have been a concern since the February 2012, when forces clashed with protesting citizens over the change in government.

With the security forces on red alert all week, Male residents surveyed expect a peaceful election but were hesitant offer predictions beyond close of polls.

Several people, ages 20-50, said they expect the roads to be crowded with excited voters and are wary of possible trouble.

Naushad and Ahmed Ibrahim expect Male’ to be calm on Saturday. “But after the election something will happen,” Naushad surmised.

“There are a lot of concerns because we had a coup, so there is a possibility that there will be a fight,” Shafa said.

Others dismissed concerns of violence. “It will be normal,” said shop-owner Ahmed.

A Commonwealth-appointed security expert will oversee security activities this weekend.

Some observed that rainy forecasts may temper election enthusiasm- forecasts show a 40-60 percent chance of rain through Sunday.

Race to the finish line

Candidates are squeezing Male’ for votes prior to Friday’s 6:00pm campaigning deadline. Party camps were partially closed on Thursday while candidates and volunteers conducted door-to-door campaigns, representatives said. All parties will be holding rallies between Thursday evening and Friday afternoon; MDP, JP and GIP will hold marches on Friday afternoon.

MDP and GIP alleged that they are targeting all demographics, although JP hopes for a strong turnout from the elderly in response to the party’s welfare proposal. PPM and JP representatives were unavailable for comment.

Party representatives interviewed all said they are hoping to reach the winning minimum 51 percent vote on Saturday; one ambitious MDP activist said they anticipated more than 80 percent.