State broadcaster slams “irresponsible” broadcasting commission report on election coverage

The Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) has heavily criticised a report by the Broadcasting Commission on television prime time coverage of last year’s presidential election campaign, calling on the broadcasting regulator to revise “misleading” elements of the report.

In a four-page press release slamming the “irresponsible” report, the state broadcaster contended that the findings were presented in a way that could cause “loss of public confidence” in the television and radio channels operated by MBC.

The report was based on monitoring of prime time (8pm to 11pm) content as well as direct access time on all television stations in the month leading up to the first round of the presidential election on September 7, 2013.

“The monitoring of the electoral content of all the TV stations was carried out to observe the performances of the stations in order to measure the total coverage time allocated for presidential candidates, the ethical conduct of the content aired and the amount of electoral content during prime time and direct access,” the report explained.

According to the report, state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) allocated the highest percentage of airtime to the Elections Commission (20.6 percent), followed by the President/Government (20.4 percent), Gasim Ibrahim (18.24 percent), Abdulla Yameen (16.34 percent), and then-President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik (14.68 percent).

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate, former President Mohamed Nasheed, received the lowest prime time coverage with 9.68 percent.

Similarly, in the last week of the presidential campaign, 12.24 percent of TVM’s coverage of Nasheed’s campaign was negative while other presidential candidates, Gasim Ibrahim and the incumbent Dr Waheed, received 100 percent positive coverage.

Candidate Yameen meanwhile received 5.41 negative coverage during the final week.


Defending its election coverage, MBC insisted in its press statement that TVM’s news was impartial, unbiased and adhered to principles of journalism.

The state broadcaster however conceded that some presidential candidates received “marginally” more coverage as they carried out more campaign activities, which was unavoidable based on “newsworthiness”.

MBC also explained that it was not practical to ensure that each candidate received equal amount of time during a news bulletin or news programme.

Instead, the state broadcaster sought to provide equal time overall during the presidential campaign period, the statement noted.

Highlighting a number of issues with the report, MBC objected to the broadcasting commission deciding to focus only on prime time coverage and limiting the review period to one month while the presidential election campaign continued on to a second round.

Moreover, MBC contended that the guidelines formulated to monitor election coverage could not be used to accurately determine bias or negative coverage.

The broadcasting commission considered the tone of coverage to determine if a subject was portrayed in a positive, neutral or negative light for a qualitative measurement.

MBC however contended that the perceived tone was dependent on a subjective judgment by the monitoring individual based on his or her political affiliation.

MBC questioned the objective of the broadcasting commission in issuing the report as a draft was not shared with broadcasters prior to publication.

The press release also questioned the quality of the work done in compiling the report, noting that members of the team of monitors were given a one-day training course.

According to the report, 11 staff members of the commission “functioned as monitors with a chief monitor who coordinated and supervised the monitoring work.”

“Each monitor was assigned a specific channel to monitor on a weekly rotation basis. To carry out the monitoring tasks professionally and impartially, the monitoring team was provided a one day training exercise where they had to complete mock monitoring forms after watching one hour prime time content,” the report explained.

MBC meanwhile noted that the Commonwealth, European Union and local NGO Transparency Maldives had praised the state broadcaster’s election coverage following their observation of the presidential election.

The press release concluded with assurances to the public that MBC would offer clarification on “misleading” issues after further examination of the report.


MDP will sign voter registry ahead of polling, rival parties undecided

Additional reporting by Zaheena Rasheed

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) will accept the modified voter registry despite minor irregularities in order to ensure the re-run of the annulled 2013 presidential election goes ahead as scheduled on Saturday (October 19).

Following the Supreme Court’s annulment of the first round of the presidential election held September 7, the Elections Commission (EC) had been given less than 12 days to prepare for the repeat poll.

The Supreme Court ordered the EC to discard the commission’s voter registry and use the Department of National Registration’s (DNR) database to compile a new registry. In an additional midnight ruling on Thursday (October 11), the court ordered the EC to re-start the entire voter re-registration process.

Despite the expedited timeline, with a window of less than one day to re-register, more than 60,000 people submitted the new fingerprint forms to vote in the first round – just 5000 short of the 65,000 who re-registered ahead of the annulled September 7 poll.

The EC is still in the process of re-registering voters and has repeatedly extended the deadline for complaints with the newest deadline being 4:00 pm today.

The EC has said the final voter registry will be sent to political parties tonight and representatives will be given until sunrise on Friday to approve the registry.

The commission has said it normally requires 45-60 days of preparation to hold a presidential election in accordance with the Maldives’ constitution and general elections law.

In a statement released today, the MDP noted  a decrease of 395 names in the October 19 registry when compared to the September 7 list. The 7 September registry contained 239,593 names, while the October 19 registry contains 239,198 names.

The MDP highlighted 62 instances of repeated names and the addition of 789 new voters who had come of age. The party said the DNR had issued 2258 new identity cards, and when the new eligible voters are deducted from the number, there were 1469 people added to the voters list in “unclear circumstances.”

“Despite noting the aforementioned matters, since the margin of error (0.61%) is negligible and because the Constitution of the Maldives states that there must be an elected President on 11 November 2013, the MDP has decided to accept the list and go ahead with the Presidential Election scheduled to be held on 19 October 2013,” the statement read.

MDP candidate former President Mohamed Nasheed – the frontrunner of the now defunct poll held on September 7 – warned that a failure to hold on election on October 19 and to swear in a democratically elected head of state by November 11 would invalidate the constitution.

“We believe the voter registry is correct and we are ready to vote with that list,” he stated.

Rival candidates representing the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and Jumhooree Party (JP) have meanwhile expressed concern about the accuracy of the new voter registry, despite accepting the need for an election to be held as soon as possible.

JP and PPM still concerned

The JP yesterday raised concerns about re-registration, with the party’s own representative on the EC Advisory Committee accusing the MDP of being able to access the commission’s servers and directly register its own candidates – compromising the system.

The party said it had filed a complaint with police over its allegations, demanding law enforcement officials address the concerns it had raised, according to local media.

Police have confirmed that an investigation was being conducted into allegations raised by the PPM and JP, though Police Spokesperson Chef Inspector Hassan Haneef was not responding to calls at time of press.

JP Deputy Leader Dr Ibrahim Didi and spokesperson Moosa Ramiz were not responding to requests for information on the allegations at time of press.

PPM MP Ahmed Nihan today said the party was committed to doing “everything possible” to ensure the re-run of the 2013 presidential election scheduled for Saturday (October 19) goes ahead.

He argued that the PPM nonetheless remained concerned over “lots of issues” that had arisen as a result of the short timeframe given to the EC to amend the eligible voter list.  He pointed to a system crash that occurred during registration on Sunday (October 13), said to have resulted from a large volume of data provided.

The technical issue, which had resulted in data having to be manually entered into the system for a two hour period, led to the EC accusing some supporters of the PPM and its coalition partners of obstructing its work during the day, with police criticised for failing to help remove protesters for at least five hours.

Nihan accused the EC of failing to correctly address issues of double voting and deceased and underage voters included in the registry ahead of the now defunct polls held September 7, but said that the EC had shown this week it did have the capacity to deal with alleged issues in the voter registry.

“If the election that is held next Saturday October 19 goes ahead, we believe the percentage of rigged votes would be far less,” he stressed.

However, Nihan said that with EC once again extending the deadline to receive complaints about the recomposed registry, a decision by the PPM on whether to proceed with Saturday’s polls would be held was expected in the next 24 hours.

Speaking at a PPM press conference yesterday (September 16), Mohamed Tholal, a party member on the EC’s advisory board questioned the capability of commission to address issues raised with re-registration this week leading to a number of deadline extensions.

“If the forms were not processed because of the seven hour delay, then they should be done by now” he said.

The PPM also accused the EC of rejecting some forms it had submitted without providing an opportunity to address issues.

Both the PPM and coalition party the Maldivan Development Alliance (MDA) meanwhile on Tuesday (September 15) questioned whether an election could go ahead as scheduled on Saturday due to a lack of time to finalise the list.

“I believe the security forces have to take action. If they do not abide by the Supreme Court [verdict’s] spirit to allow every citizen the right to vote, this issue must be looked into,” the MDA’s Ahmed Amir was quoted as saying in local media at the time.

Ali Ahmed Manik of the EC meanwhile said he hoped that the three candidates representing the MDP, PPM and JP in Saturday’s election would agree to sign the registry for polling to commence on schedule.

“We have already sent a list to all the candidates,” Manik was quoted as saying in local newspaper Haveeru. “Re-registration will be added to that. So they can check our list even now. We will be able to submit a final list when [re-registration] is completed. I think the presidential candidates will do this for us.”

Despite the allegations, Elections Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek has expressed confidence polling would go ahead as scheduled on Saturday, despite not everything being within the commission’s control.

“We are giving our maximum effort to reach the deadline. No rest, no sleep, two hours [maximum]. We were working 24 hours straight, then 36, now 48. Our officials are doing everything humanly possible. International observers are even surprised [at the intensive effort put forth],” said Thowfeek.


President addresses nation on Eid-al-Adha, expresses doubt over fairness of upcoming election

President Dr Mohamed Waheed has today said he will not be backing any particular candidate in the election rerun scheduled for Saturday (October 19), while highlighting what he claimed was “room for doubt” over the integrity and fairness of this year’s polls.

Speaking via local media on the occasion of Eid-al-Adha today, President Waheed, who this week announced he would not be contesting in Saturday’s election, said all Maldivians would share the success of the winning candidate.

During the now defunct presidential poll held on September 7, President Waheed obtained 5.13 percent of the popular vote, finishing last of the four candidates contesting.

The president was quoted in local media as refusing to accept that he had only taken just over 5 percent of the ballot that was annulled by the Supreme Court.

“There are some people who believe that, since it was decided that I gained only five percent of votes in the election, I have no right to speak for the Maldivian people. I don’t accept that, because it is the result of a void election, and because given my post, every action I take affects a large group Maldivian people,” he was quoted as saying in Sun Online.

The outgoing president said that it remained the duty of all Maldivian heads of state “to bring happiness and joy in to the hearts of the people, and to save them from the uneasiness and conflict that has engulfed the country”, according to a summary of his speech provided by the President’s Office.

Dr Waheed, who was elected to office as vice president in the country’s first democratic multi-party election in 2008 as the running mate of former President Mohamed Nasheed, took office himself on February 7, 2012 on the back of a mutiny by sections of the police and military.

Waheed became the president in a controversial transfer of power, alleged by Nasheed to have been a “coup d’etat” orchestrated by his then vice president and political opponents

Addressing the nation on greater Eid – Eid al Adha – President Waheed said the best care had been taken of the “treasure” Maldivian citizens had trusted him with five years ago.

However, questioning the integrity of the election currently scheduled to be held on Saturday (October 19), he claimed that division and vengeance was now widespread in society, adding that it had now become very difficult to differentiate between fact and fabrication.

The election on September 7, which saw an 88 percent voter turnout, was unanimously considered credible and democratic by more than 1000 local and international election observers, before the country’s Supreme Court annulled the vote over allegations of voter irregularities.

According to the President’s Office, unspecified individuals were now creating conflict and hatred in society for the purpose of political gain, though no further clarification was given on the comments.

“However much you deny it, the truth would still be the truth. However much you try to defend it, a lie would still be a lie,” stated the outgoing president, whose term is constitutionally set to end on November 11 this year.

Former President Nasheed was the front runner with 45.45 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, Dr Waheed’s own former election running mate, (DRP) Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali Leader, has said he is now backing Nasheed in Saturday’s election.


JP, PPM fail to agree on contesting election with single candidate

Jumhoree Party (JP) presidential candidate MP Gasim Ibrahim will individually contest the election rerun scheduled for Saturday (October 19), after failing to agree terms with his rivals on uniting behind a single candidate against the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

JP Policy Secretary Mohamed Ajmal confirmed that talks between Gasim and fellow candidates President Dr Mohamed Waheed and MP Abdulla Yameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) had failed to result in an agreement to form an election coalition.

President Waheed announced Friday (October 11) that he would be withdrawing from the election rerun set for October 19, after polls held last month were annulled by the Supreme Court.

Waheed, who came in last place during the now defunct first round of polling on September 7 with 5.13 percent of the popular vote, said he had taken his decision in the “greater interest”of the Maldives, citing concerns about the integrity of the independent Elections Commission (EC).

The election, which saw an 88 percent voter turnout, was unanimously considered credible and democratic by more than 1000 local and international election observers.

Local media has meanwhile quoted the president as saying he would not back back any particular candidate ahead of the vote, despite previously pledging support to the PPM ahead of the cancelled run-off vote that was to be held on September 28.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said he could not officially confirm the president’s stance on not backing a candidate at time of press.

The decision means that just three candidates will contest Saturday’s poll; MDP candidate former President Mohamed Nasheed, Abdulla Yameen of the PPM and Gasim Ibrahim of the JP.

Ajmal said that with Dr Waheed, Yameen and Gasim failing to agree on terms for fielding a single candidate to stand against Nasheed, the JP’s candidate would contest the polls individually along with his running mate Dr Hassan Saeed, as he had during the vote on September 7.

Speaking during a press conference yesterday (September 12), Gasim accused the PPM of being the main obstacle in agreeing to back President Waheed as a single candidate against Nasheed.

“I said the others must choose that path as well. Then it will be President Waheed who will contest elections. [I asked for that] because that is the path for success. However that did not happen. I myself told PPM’s President, [former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom] that I was ready to do that,” he told local media during the press conference.

“When I had proposed this, PPM cannot lie and say [we] did not agree to a single candidate. Politics is dirty, but it shouldn’t be this dirty.”

PPM presidential candidate Yameen has meanwhile told newspaper Haveeru he did not believe the party would receive a sufficient number of votes by uniting behind Waheed. He raised an additional concern, that the incumbent’s running mate during the September 7 vote was Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, adding that it was against the law to change a choice of running mate.

Thasmeen and his party have since pledged support for the MDP during the election.

“We cannot see a way to lawfully change the running mate. There is no way to change Thasmeen as Waheed’s running mate. So even in this sense, from a legal point of view, President Waheed is not a choice,” Yameen was quoted as saying.

The PPM presidential candidate was not responding to calls at time of press.

Cancelled vote

Gasim narrowly finished in third place during last month’s cancelled vote, taking 24.07 percent of ballots cast, with Yameen receiving 25.35 percent of the votes cast.

MDP candidate former President Mohamed Nasheed finished as front runner in the poll, securing 45.45 percent of the popular vote.  However, he fell short of the 50 percent ‘plus one vote’ needed to secure the presidency during the first round.

Despite both local and international observers praising the September 7 poll and the conduct of the Maldives’ EC, the Supreme Court ultimately backed concerns raised by the JP over alleged voter irregularities and ordered a rerun of last month’s poll in its entirety.


2014 budget should be decided after election, says former finance minister

Former Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz has questioned the timing of a decision to present cabinet with the projected 2014 state budget less than 10 days before the scheduled re-run of the presidential election.

With the constitution requiring a new president be sworn into office by November 11, 2013, Inaz has told Minivan News that the budget should be decided by a democratically elected government immediately following the election, rather than by the outgoing administration of President Dr Mohamed Waheed.

The claims were made after the Supreme Court last month suspended the run off vote between Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate Mohamed Nasheed and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) rival MP Abdulla Yameen that had been scheduled for September 28.

The country’s apex court later annulled the first round, ruling that 5,600 ineligible votes had been cast.

With a re-scheduled poll just under a week away, the President’s Office has announced that Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad had presented the projected 2014 budget to the cabinet on October 8.

Whilst Jihad was not responding to requests for information, local media – citing unnamed Finance Ministry sources – have reported that the proposed budget is expected to total MVR16.5 billion.

The project spending plan come as the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) warned in its latest Quarterly Economic Bulletin that government finances have “further deteriorated in the first six months of 2013” due to a sizeable shortfall in expected revenue coupled with a marked increase in recurrent expenditure.

The economic bulletin revealed that the total government expenditure of MVR6.7 billion (US$435 million) in the first half of 2013 was 8 percent higher than the same period in 2012.

The growth of government spending was “entirely due to the 21 percent (MVR965.3 million) growth in recurrent expenditure, which was partly offset by the 26 percent (MVR440.6 million) decline in capital expenditure during the period”, the report stated.

While the present government had previously anticipated the need for for a supplementary budget after state offices were found to have exhausted their entire annual recurrent expenditure for 2013 by April, the Finance Ministry has instead relied on short-term treasury bills (T-bills) to carry over its debts.

Former Finance Minister Inaz said the present government’s reliance on the sale of T-bills was only delaying moves to address the problems with state spending, while ensuring the cost of lending for both public and private enterprise goes up.

Inaz argued that it should be for the newly elected administration to outline how state spending would be handled to find an “agreeable solution” backed by parliament.

“What I mean by agreeable solution is that in the current political climate, I do not believe there will be a clear parliament majority, so we must learn to talk [between political parties],” he said.

“If we delay, this will only prolong the deficit and kill the tax system completely.”

Long term co-operation needed

The former minister said that during the administration of former President Nasheed – under which he himself served – there had been “reluctance” to talk with the country’s opposition.

He added that the same opposition had for their part worked to try and stymie financial measures such as proposed tax reforms that he said had nonetheless been partially introduced by the MDP in the form of the Tourism Goods and Services Tax (T-GST) and general GST.

Having spoken with the current presidential candidates, Inaz argued that there was a shared interest in finding a solution to current concerns over the size of the country’s budget deficit, but argued against what he called the short and medium-term revenue raising measures previously suggested by the current government.

“It will take long-term strategies rather than looking for short-term solutions to try and increase revenue. We must push more cash into the economy and take less money from banks,” he said.

“We cannot increase taxes much more at present, so I believe the smartest way forward would be on focusing to increase productivity. For instance, the revenues in 2011 [from taxation] were way above what we had expected at the time.”

While Inaz said he backed greater efficiency within the civil service and private sector as a key means of boosting revenue, he claimed that significant cuts to recurrent expenditure was not realistic at present.

He took the example of the previous MDP government’s attempts to reduce state wage bills, which he said had required redundancy packages that would not be affordable in the current financial climate.

However, Inaz claimed that any potential government should instead consider freezing current civil service numbers and not hiring any more public sector workers unless a vacancy arose, something he claimed had again been started by the MDP in 2012 before the controversial change in government in early February of the same year.

Former Economic Development Minister Mahmood Razee – another significant figure in the former MDP government – said that it was vital that parliament agree to implement a complete and comprehensive reform of the current taxation system.

Razee argued that the previous government had predicted that once its tax reform plans had been fully implemented to include measures such as income tax, there would not be any need to increase taxes like GST and T-GST as the Majlis previously had this year.


President Waheed withdraws from October 19 election

President Dr Mohamed Waheed has announced his withdrawal from the rerun of the 2013 presidential election scheduled for October 19, after polling held last month was annulled by the Supreme Court.

Waheed, who came in last place during the now defunct first round of polling held on September 7 with 5.13 percent of the popular vote, said he had taken his decision in the “greater interest”of the Maldives, citing concerns about the integrity of the independent Elections Commission (EC).

“The court found serious flaws with the election register and considered other allegations of irregularities,” stated the President’s Office yesterday (October 11).

Despite both local and international observers praising the September 7 polls and the conduct of the Maldives’ EC, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Jumhoree Party (JP) – whose candidate MP Gasim Ibrahim finished narrowly in third place with  24.07 percent of ballots cast – by ordering a rerun of last month’s poll in its entirety.

Subsequent Supreme Court rulings have since overturned the Election Commission by ordering it to give candidates the choice whether to stay on the ballot paper or withdraw from the election, as well as demanding the entire elections re-registration process be restarted less than 10 days before polling.

While Dr Waheed has stood down from contesting the election rerun, the President’s Office said he would continue with his duties until his term expires on November 11, when the constitution requires a new head of state to be sworn in.

“Disputes arising out of the first round have caused serious disagreements among the political parties, the Elections Commission and the Supreme Court. During the remaining time, the President will do his best to maintain peace and stability, to ensure the election process continues with greater fairness, and to steer the country through these difficult times,” read the statement.

“Although President Waheed scored the least number of votes in the first round, he continues to be highly respected for the calmness with which he has managed the country, and for maintaining peace and stability in the nation.”

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad was not responding to calls at time of press to clarify whether the incumbent would be lending his support to another candidate standing in the election.

President Waheed last month announced he would be backing Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) candidate Abdulla Yameen in the second round run-off vote that was scheduled for September 28.  The run-off was delayed and later cancelled by the Supreme Court.

Yameen had finished in second place on the cancelled September 7 poll with 25.35 percent of the votes cast. He was scheduled to compete against Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate former President Mohamed Nasheed, who secured  45.45 percent of the popular vote – falling short of the 51 percent needed to secure the presidency during the first round.


MDP call for a “people’s government” if no election by November 11

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)  passed a resolution on Sunday (September 29), calling for the establishment of a people’s government headed by the party’s presidential candidate and former president Mohamed Nasheed, if no elected president is sworn in by the end of the current presidential term on November 11.

The resolution comes after the Maldives Police Services forcibly brought run-off preparations to a halt on Friday following a Supreme Court order to delay the second round of presidential elections in an ongoing case filed by third placed Jumhooree Party (JP) to annul the vote.

The MDP emerged as the front-runner with 45.45 percent of the vote in the first round of polls and was set to run against the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), which won 25.35 percent in a second round on September 29.

The resolution, passed with unanimous approval of 78 members, says the party will continue its presidential campaign activities, will actively participate in peaceful political activity to get the right to vote, and is to establish a people’s government if a president is not sworn in by November 11.

“If no elected President is sworn in as per the constitution on 11 November 2013, then the MDP by virtue of the mandate given to them by the first round of the Presidential elections held on 7 September 2013, will work to establish a people’s Government headed by the MDP’s Presidential candidate, President Mohamed Nasheed,” the resolution read.

The party is to hold discussions with all state institutions and the international community to seek their support for the people’s government.

Further, the party has called for civil disobedience and will begin mass protests calling for the establishment of a people’s government, and will carry out political activity in Male’ and the atolls.

According to the resolution, MDP’s campaign offices and atolls will be reactivated and campaign officials are to travel across the country to continue with presidential campaign. Door-to-door activities are to restart.

The PPM’s legal advisor Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim yesterday said that the Supreme Court should decide who to hand the presidency to should presidential elections fail to take place by November 11.

Meanwhile, the Jumhooree Party has criticised the MDP’s resolution as “extremist and harmful” and says the MDP wants to “create strife and plunge the country into a behavioural war by bringing people from the atolls into Malé.”

In a statement released on Sunday, the party said it wants a speedy verdict in the Supreme Court case and said “the Jumhooree Coalition will obey any Supreme Court verdict that calls for a revote and ensures first round’s fraud is not repeated.”

The Maldives’ first round of polling has received praise from international and domestic observers, whilst the Supreme Court’s decision to delay polls has been met with global and domestic concern.


Supreme Court election dispute throws Maldives into legal void

Maldivian lawyers have claimed the country has been thrown into a legal void by the dispute over whether to move ahead with run-off polls scheduled for today (September 28) in defiance of a Supreme Court order.

Speaking to Minivan News, former Attorney General Husnu Suood – who had represented the Elections Commission (EC) in the Supreme Court this week before being thrown out for ‘contempt of court’ – said the dispute had left the country’s ongoing democratic transition in “limbo”.

“I am of the view that all institutions have a duty to uphold the constitution,” he said in response to the EC’s efforts to hold voting within the time line established under Article 111 of the constitution.

“According to the constitution, the Supreme Court’s word is final only in respect of the interpretation of provisions of constitution and law. Here, the Supreme Court had not given an interpretation on Article 111. However, Judicature Act says that all state institutions must abide by the rulings made by courts.”

Meanwhile, lawyer Mohamed Shafaz Wajeed today told Minivan News that there was no clear argument for whether the Supreme Court could indefinitely delay voting beyond the scheduled deadline requested under Article 111 of the constitution.

“In terms of whether the Supreme Court could rule to postpone a constitutional date, such dates have not been met before,” he said of previous elections held in the country.

“At the same time, the Supreme Court itself has ruled that time should be considered of the essence unless there exists a state of war. So it could be argued for both sides,” said Shafaz.

Elections Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek confirmed on Thursday (September 26) that the second round of the presidential election would be held as originally scheduled today in accordance with Article 111 of the constitution. Article 111 requires a vote to be held within 21 days of a first round poll.

Besieged by police on Friday night, the EC eventually declared that polling could not go ahead within the constitutionally mandated time frame due to a lack of cooperation from state institutions and security services.

Thowfeek’s initial decision to hold the vote was taken in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling issued Monday (September 23) ordering all state institutions to delay preparations for the poll until it reached a verdict in a case filed against the EC by the Jumhooree Party (JP).

However, the Supreme Court yesterday quoted Article 141 and Article 145 of the constitution – arguing that it remained the highest authority on the administration of justice in the Maldives, as well as the interpretation of the constitution, or any other matter dealt with by a court of law.

The Supreme Court case filed by the JP is ongoing, with a final verdict expected during the next hearing.

Constitution is supreme

Another local lawyer, who has practiced in the Maldives for the last five years, said the Supreme Court has on numerous occasions been found to have “flouted” provisions contained within the constitution relating to the scheduling of a number of elections held since 2008.

“It is the constitution in the Maldives that is supreme, and the Supreme Court has no basis to go against it,” the legal source explained.

The lawyer pointed to a Supreme Court verdict passed in January 2009 under Article 296 (a) of the constitution that parliamentary elections had to be held by February 15 that year unless prevented by an “act of God”.

The vote was eventually held in May of the same year.

According to the legal source, the legitimacy of any actions since taken within parliament were themselves constitutionally “questionable”.

However, the lawyer expressed his personal belief that the MDP should have awaited a final decision by the court in the case filed by the JP, after joining the case last week, fearing any attempts to hold an election “against the state” could have resulted in possible military intervention.

The source also reiterated concerns over the failure of watchdog body the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) to recognise Article 285 of the constitution, outlining standards for the appointment and qualification of judges, after the provision was discarded as “symbolic” by in 2010.

The source also pointed to recent controversy concerning ongoing investigations into leaked video tapes appearing to depict Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed engaging in sexual relations with foreign women as another development undermining the apex court.

With Ali Hameed still remaining on the bench despite the ongoing investigation into his conduct, the legal source questioned the MDP’s decision to willingly join the case filed by the Jumhoree Party at the Supreme Court, rather than refusing to engage or validate the institution instead.

“Once you accept [the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction] you have to accept the verdict after joining the case,” the lawyer argued.

The legal source nonetheless did not rule out the Supreme Court “playing politics” and trying to provoke the MDP by failing to reach a conclusion ahead of the scheduled second round.

The source also raised questions over why the court had heard witness statements over three days rather than at a single hearing.


Maldives democratic transition in “limbo”: Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses

“With the Maldivian Supreme Court postponing second round of elections, the democratic transition in the Maldives has gone into limbo,” writes Anand Kumar in a comment piece for the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA).

“The confusion prevailing in the country after the first round of elections has also made it clear that whosoever emerges victorious after the second round if it is held at all, he may find opposition quite difficult to handle in the aftermath of elections,” added Kumar.

“The much awaited multi-party elections in Maldives took place on September 7, 2013. As expected the first round failed to throw up a clear winner. This has now necessitated a second round which was earlier scheduled for September 28, 2013, and has now been postponed.

In the run-off election top two candidates from the earlier round would contest. They are Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate, Mohamed Nasheed and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) candidate Abdulla Yameen. However, the third candidate, Qasim Ibrahim from Jumhooree Party who lost by a whisker does not seem satisfied with the results and has gone to the court. In response to his petition the Supreme Court of Maldives has suspended presidential elections sparking protests and fears of instability in the archipelago country.

The polls in Maldives generated lot of enthusiasm among the people. They turned out in large numbers and nearly 88 percent of eligible voters used their franchise. In Maldives, the total number of voters is 2,39,593 out of which 2,11,890 cast their ballot. Former president Mohamed Nasheed managed 95,224 (45.45 per cent). Yameen, half brother of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom came second with 53,099 votes (25.35 per cent) and business tycoon Qasim Ibrahim came a close third with 50,422 votes (24.07 per cent). President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik finished last with 10,750 votes (5.13 per cent).

The interesting part of first round of polling is that business tycoon, Qasim Ibrahim who is also supported by the fundamentalist Adhaalath Party lost by a whisker. This has made swallowing defeat little difficult for him. Similarly, incumbent President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik polled just five percent of the votes and probably is the first sitting president anywhere in the world to get such low percentage in a re-election.

This clearly shows that his was not a popular government though earlier a Commonwealth-led probe had stated that the transfer of power was done according to the constitution. The Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) set up by the Maldivian government last year had also found no evidence of a coup.

Qasim Ibrahim who came third with less than 3000 votes has alleged irregularity in polling. He alleged that there are several flaws in the voter list. He has claimed that he could have easily got between 10,000 to 30,000 more votes. He has disputed the result in the High Court, Supreme Court, at rallies, and on his television station – Villa TV – declaring that he should have been placed first. Interestingly, PPM has also extended support to Qasim Ibrahim and has accepted the Supreme Court’s decision to delay the elections.

There is nothing wrong with Qasim Ibrahim going to the courts. But Maldives judiciary has its own problem. Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed has been implicated in a series of widely circulated obscene videos, but the judicial oversight body Judicial Services Commission (JSC) decided not to suspend the judge against the recommendation of a subcommittee it set up to investigate the matter. This happened because Qasim Ibrahim was a member of the JSC at the time and he stopped all action against the judge.

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