MP Nasheed to draft regulations for SEZ investment board

The investment board created under the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Act has tasked ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed with providing legal advice and drafting regulations.

Local media reported last week that the Kulhudhufushi South MP was appointed for the task with unanimous consent of the investment board members at its first meeting on Thursday (September 18).

Nasheed – who was also involved in drafting the legislation – reportedly agreed to draft the regulations free of charge.

Earlier this month, President Abdulla Yameen appointed Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb chairman of the board of investment.

The five-member board is authorised to grant approval for applications by developers to establish a zone, issue permits and investment licenses, and formulate rules and policies for the operation of SEZs.

Additionally, the board would monitor and review progress of investments, assess risk damage and liability, determine rates of fees and charges, and sign investment agreements between the government and developers.

The board would be assisted by a 17-member technical committee comprised of government officials as well as representatives from the private sector.

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New regulations mandate government approval before publishing literature

New regulations enacted yesterday will subject the publication of prose and poetry in the Maldives to government approval.

The stated purpose of the ‘Regulations on approving literature published in the Maldives’ (Dhivehi) is “ensuring that literature published or made public in the Maldives fit Maldivian laws and regulations as well as societal norms”.

The rules are aimed at “reducing adverse effects on society that could be caused by published literature.”

The new rules sparked an immediate outcry on social media, including suggestions from former majlis speaker, Abdulla Shahid, that basic constitutional and human rights were being threatened.

The regulations prohibit publishing literary material without seeking approval from the national bureau of classification and prescribes a fine of between MVR500 (US$32) and MVR5,000 (US$324) for violations.

An additional MVR1,000 (US$64) would be imposed for repeat violations.

Moreover, if a publication is found in a court of law to contain “false information”, the approval would be revoked and the person or party would not be granted further approval for a period of one year after payment of fines for the first offence.

Approval would not be granted for three years and five years for the second and third offences, respectively.

“Books must be published in the Maldives after seeking approval from the national bureau of classification,” states section 6(a) of the regulations published in the government gazette yesterday.

However, books or pamphlets published by a political party, association, company or state institution to disseminate information among members or staff would be exempt from the requirement.

“A poem must be made public in the Maldives after seeking approval from the national bureau of classification,” states section 11(a).

Section 11(b) explains that the rule applies to “any form of publication, a separate recording or an album for sale, inclusion in a film or documentary, broadcasting or telecasting, making public through the internet, and circulating as a ring-tone.”

The regulations define books as any piece of writing, photography or artwork published either printed on paper between covers or “electronically, digitally or otherwise.”

The rules apply to publications on the internet.

The regulations also require the national bureau of classification to compile a registry of members for granting approval for publications.

“Books and poetry shall be published in the Maldives in accordance with decisions by members on the registry,” states section 13.

The conditions for membership include being a Maldivian citizen aged 30 years above and a Sunni Muslim. If a member has been convicted of a criminal offence, five years must have elapsed since either the sentence was served or a pardon was granted.

Additionally, members must have at least 10 years of experience in the relevant publishing field.

In granting approval for publication, the regulations state that members must consider whether the piece of literature “fits Islam, Maldivians laws and regulations, and societal norms.”

Moreover, members must consider the potential negative impact on society from the published material.

Section 15(c) states that members must respect the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution as well as “constructive new thinking”.

Along with a copy of the manuscript of the book or poem, a form seeking approval and a MVR50 revenue stamp must be submitted to the national bureau of classification.

Publishers must also submit a form seeking an ISB (international standard book) number.

Censorship

Meanwhile, former Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid has condemned the government’s “decision to impose pre-publication censorship.”

The regulations violate Article 27, 28 and 29 of the Constitution, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MP tweeted today.

Article 27 guarantees “the right to freedom of thought and the freedom to communicate opinions and expression in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam,” whist Article 29 ensures “the freedom to acquire and impart knowledge, information and learning.”

Article 28 states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of the press, and other means of communication, including the right to espouse, disseminate and publish news, information, views and ideas. No person shall be compelled to disclose the source of any information that is espoused, disseminated or published by that person.”

The regulations were also contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the Maldives’ commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Shahid contended.

The regulations have prompted a flurry of tweets and Facebook posts from Maldivians expressing concern over censorship.

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Supreme Court enacts new contempt of court regulations

The Supreme Court has enacted new regulations authorising courts to initiate legal proceedings and punish individuals for any expression, action, gesture, or piece of writing “inside or outside a courtroom” that could be considered contempt of court.

The contempt of court regulations (Dhivehi) promulgated on July 24 states that its purpose is “establishing justice, removing obstacles to trials, and upholding the honour and dignity of courts.”

“Contempt of court is a crime. And holding courts and its judges in contempt, and committing any act that could diminish the honour and dignity of courts is against Article 141(c) and (d) of the Constitution,” states section three of the regulations.

Spoken or written words as well as deeds and gestures that constitute contempt of court include portraying the judiciary in a negative light, an utterance or action that demeans a court, a judge, or court officer, “criticising or berating a court or a judge, or committing any act that causes loss of respect and dignity of a court or a judge, or attempting to bring the court into disrepute.”

Other actions include obstruction of ongoing trials, non-compliance with court orders or verdicts, refusal to provide testimony at a trial, refusal to answer summons to appear at court or flying overseas without permission, and use of obscene language inside a courtroom.

Additionally, causing physical harm to a judge or a court officer, damaging court property, bringing cameras or recording devices into courtrooms without permission, leaving a courtroom during ongoing proceedings, causing disorder at a trial, and using a public forum or the media to unduly influence an ongoing trial would also be considered contempt of court.

Initiating proceedings

While judges could immediately take punitive measures for contempt of court either during trials or within court premises, the regulations stipulate that the state must press charges and initiate criminal prosecution for words or deeds constituting contempt of court outside a courtroom.

However, the Supreme Court, High Court, and lower courts could initiate proceedings if either is the target of the contemptuous remark or action.

The apex court meanwhile has the discretion to initiate proceedings in cases involving contempt towards any court or judge.

If an institution exhibits contempt of court, the regulation states that its most senior official must bear responsibility and face charges.

The accused party in contempt of court trials would have the right to seek legal representation and defend themselves verbally or in writing. An odd number of judges must preside over such trials.

The accused could avail themselves of legal defence arguments used in criminal trials while evidence presented at such trials “with good will or intention to assist in the dispensation of justice” would not be considered contempt of court.

While providing information to the public regarding ongoing trials “truthfully and impartially” is permissible, the regulation states that courts could prohibit dissemination of information at its choosing.

Punishment

Persons found guilty of contempt of court during proceedings at a hearing or trial could be sentenced to up to 15 days in jail, placed under house arrest for up to one month, or fined up to MVR10,000 (US$649).

For other cases of contempt of court during proceedings or inside court premises, the regulations state that persons could be sentenced pursuant to Articles 85 through 88 of the penal code.

However, section 13 – which deals with punishment – does not specify the punishment for instances of contempt of court outside the courtroom

Moreover, sentences passed during proceedings or following a contempt of court trial cannot be appealed at a higher court. However, the Supreme Court has the authority to take measures or issue orders while a contempt of court trial is ongoing at a lower court.

‘Sumoto’

On March 9, less than two weeks before the parliamentary elections, the Supreme Court stripped former Elections Commission (EC) Chair Fuwad Thowfeek and Deputy Chair Ahmed Fayaz of their membership in the independent commission over contempt of court charges.

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

Meanwhile, in January, the Supreme Court suspended former Attorney General Husnu Suood and ordered police to investigate the lawyer for alleged contempt of court. The Prosecutor General’s Office, however, dropped the charges in March.

The former AG had represented the EC in an election annulment case before being ejected and barred from proceedings.

Moreover, the court also sought criminal charges against opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV over a report criticising the judiciary while Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain threatened legal action against media organisations or journalists who disseminate false or inauthentic information concerning the judiciary.

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MPs Alhan Fahmy and Imthiyaz Fahmy were meanwhile charged with contempt of court for criticising the apex court on Raajje TV.

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Bar Association expresses concern with AG office ceasing issuance of law licences

The Bar Association of Maldives has expressed concern with the Attorney General’s (AG) office indefinitely suspending issuance of licenses to practice law in December last year.

In a press statement today, the Bar Association noted that a number of newly graduated lawyers have since been awaiting licenses from the AG office.

The new graduates were “facing financial and professional losses” as a result of the delay, the Bar Association stated.

The AG office announced on December 17 that it was ceasing the issuance of licenses pending amendments to regulations governing the legal profession.

The office would resume issuing licenses once the amended regulations take effect, the announcement stated.

An official from the AG office told Minivan News today that the amendment or review process was still ongoing, adding that it was difficult to estimate a time for completion.

The Bar Association stated in its press release that it accepted that the regulations were “in need of reform”.

“And this association believes that the solution to this would be the submission of the legal profession bill to the People’s Majlis and its passage into law as soon as possible,” the statement read.

Pending the enactment of a law governing the legal profession, the Bar Association recommended that the AG office resume issuing licenses after amending the regulations in accordance with the draft legislation on the legal profession.

The draft legislation was formulated by the association and shared with the AG office.

Legal lacuna

A bill on the legal profession is included in the government’s legislative agenda (Dhivehi), to be submitted during the second session of the People’s Majlis for 2014.

In the absence of a law governing the legal profession when the new constitution was adopted in August 2008, parliament passed a General Regulations Act as parent legislation for over 80 regulations without a statutory basis, including the regulation governing lawyers.

Article 271 of the constitution states, “Regulations derive their authority from laws passed by the People’s Majlis pursuant to which they are enacted and are enforceable pursuant to such lawful authority. Any regulations requiring compliance by citizens must only be enacted pursuant to authority granted by a law enacted by the People’s Majlis.”

The parent act prolonged the lifespan of the regulations – which did not derive authority from an act of parliament – until new legislation could be passed. Parliament has since been extending the regulations for one year periods.

The last extension was approved in April 2013 with the next extension due in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, in a comprehensive report on the Maldivian justice system released in May 2013, UN Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, expressed concern “about the absence of an independent self-regulating bar association or council that oversees the process of admitting candidates to the legal profession, provides for a uniform code of ethics and conduct, and enforces disciplinary measures, including disbarment.”

The AG office being the authority who regulated the legal profession was “contrary to the basic principles on the role of lawyers,” she wrote.

Powers to issue licenses to practice laws as well as enforce disciplinary measures should not rest with the executive, Knaul advised.

She recommended that parliament “should pass comprehensive supporting legislation for the legal profession,” which should be drafted following “comprehensive and substantive consultations with lawyers and should be in line with international principles.”

“The Special Rapporteur believes that the current draft bill on the legal profession needs a lot of revision as it centres on the creation of a Bar Council and neglects other necessary aspects, such as examination procedures to get a licence to practice and continuing education and training,” read the recommendations.

Moreover, Knaul recommended that a “self-regulating independent bar association or council should be urgently established to oversee the process of admitting candidates to the legal profession, provide for a uniform code of ethics and conduct, and enforce disciplinary measures, including disbarment.”

“The Bar Association should, as a matter of priority and in accordance with international standards and norms, develop a code of ethics applicable to all lawyers, which it should vigorously and coherently implement and enforce.”

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ACC, Civil Court orders Islamic Ministry to halt bidding process for Hajj groups

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has ordered the Ministry of Islamic Affairs to halt the bidding process for selecting Hajj Groups to accompany Maldivian pilgrims and to revise the criteria for awarding quotas.

Following an investigation into alleged corrupt practices, the ACC revealed in a press statement today that it identified nine issues with the regulations (Dhivehi) formulated by the ministry for evaluating bid proposals, which was published in the government gazette on February 12.

The ACC investigation was prompted by a complaint lodged at the commission alleging that the regulations were being used to unduly benefit certain parties.

The ACC decision came on the heels of a stay order (Dhivehi) issued by the Civil Court this morning ordering the ministry to halt the bidding process pending a ruling on the validity of the regulations.

The stay order or injunction was granted in a lawsuit filed by two Hajj groups – the Abatross and Minaa groups – contending that the bidding process was unfair.

Among the issues identified by the ACC was a new requirement for interested parties to submit bank statements – dating back six months – of the company’s management account and money depositing account.

Companies were also required to submit details of employees who would be accompanying pilgrims as well as documents proving their experience.

While 15 percent of marks were to be awarded for experience, the ACC noted that the regulations did not specify how experience would be measured or graded.

Moreover, while companies were required to submit details of ticket prices along with their proposal, the ACC noted that it would depend on the quota, which was to be decided by the ministry following evaluation of bids.

In addition, the commission found that there were no guidelines to evaluate the proposed price (45 percent of marks) and the quality of service (30 percent), whilst the ministry had not set a ceiling for the quoted price.

Based on its findings, the ACC ordered the ministry to revise the issues identified in its investigation report – shared with the ministry today – before resuming the bidding process.

Of the 800 pilgrim quota afforded to the Maldives by Saudi Arabia, 400 were reserved by the government’s Hajj Corporation while the rest were to be divided amongst companies chosen from the bidding process.

The proposals were to be submitted to the Islamic Ministry at 10:30am today.

The bidding process for Hajj groups was marred by controversy in 2013 as well. In May, the High Court overturned a Civil Court ruling in which the trial court ordered the Islamic Ministry to reevaluate several unsuccessful bids presented by local Hajj groups.

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MNDF introduces regulations against officers inciting ‘upheaval and chaos’

The Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) has amended its regulations to impose punishments on officers found guilty of inciting ‘upheaval and chaos’, as rumours of possible disgruntlement among military personnel spreads across social media.

The Military Act amendment, which focuses on conduct by officers to support a coup or “chaos” in the armed forces, comes shortly after the MNDF issued a statement of condemnation, claiming that some media outlets had been “sowing discord and disorder in the military.”

Within hours of the amendment coming into force, First Lieutenant Abdulla Shareef was handed an ‘indefinite suspension’ from the service on the grounds that he was found guilty of attempting to cause upheaval and chaos within the military rank.

The new amendment, which came into force on Wednesday (October 3) will be included as the 22nd chapter of the Military Regulation. The document was quickly leaked onto twitter.

The introductory provision of the amendment (Page 1 and Page 2) states: “This is the chapter that defines the ‘upheaval and chaos’ mentioned in the Section 33 of the Military Act which states upheavals and chaos that are incited through speech, writing, action or gesture amongst members of the military.”

Section 33 of the Military Act states – “Any officer who orchestrates a coup, or incites upheaval and chaos within the military, or attempts to commit such an act, or supports such an act, or remains silent whilst having knowledge of such attempts, or delays in informing of such an attempt, is held liable under this act.

The new definition of incitement of ‘upheaval and chaos’ laid down in the new amendment includes:

  • Making demands through petitions drawn among two or more officers
  • Displaying content that could sow discord and disorder amongst military flanks through speech, writing, graphical depictions, photographs or any other means
  • Speech or conduct that amounts to doubts and questions being raised about the legality of an order given to the officers or a group of officers and
  • Incitement of hatred and false allegations towards the upper ranks of the military.

The amendment also states that any officer whose actions or attempts to incite action fall within the ambit of the definition laid down would face administrative action and penalties.

snapshot of the announcement obtained by Minivan News stated that accusations levied against First Lieutenant Shareef had been confirmed by statements from other MNDF officials questioned during an internal investigation.

Therefore First Lieutenant Shareef had been suspended under the section 4(a) of the MNDF Employment Regulation, read the announcement.

MNDF Spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem confirmed to Minivan News that the amendment to the regulations had been enforced, as well the suspension of First Lieutenant Shareef.

Letter of concern and resignation of First Lieutenant Mohamed Haleem

On Monday (October 3), senior officers in the MNDF sent a “letter of concern” to Chief of Defence Force Major-General Ahmed Shiyam, following the failure of the country to hold scheduled elections on September 28.

Colonel Raheem – a signatory of the letter himself – has confirmed the authenticity of the letter, telling Minivan News earlier this week that the letter had been intended to inform the MNDF leadership of their “concerns about political turbulence in the country right now and how the military should plan and prepare for it”.

Another officer who signed the letter told Minivan News on condition of anonymity:

“This is not a petition. It is a letter of concern over the Supreme Court’s order to delay elections, the failure of state institutions, and the possible politicisation of the military, and asking that unconstitutional orders not be issued.”

The officer also said that the letter had been signed by ranks including Generals, Colonels, Lieutenant Colonels, Captains, First Lieutenants, Sergeant Majors and Warrant Officers.

A copy of the letter obtained by Minivan News showed that the suspended First Lieutenant Shareef was also a signatory of the letter.

Other signatories included Brigadier General Abdulla Shamaal, Colonel Hamid Shafeeq, Colonel Ahmed Jihad, Lance Colonel Nasrulla Majdee, Captain Abdul Muizz, Lance Colonel Ibrahim Hilmy, Sergeant Major Hassan Fawaz, Sergeant Major Naushad Ali, and Captain Hassan Amir.

Colonel Mohamed Ziyad – who is also facing criminal prosecution for his alleged role in controversial detention of Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed – is also a signatory to the document.

The signature of former Military Intelligence Head Brigadier General Ahmed Nilam– who testified in parliament stating that controversial ousting of former President Mohamed Nasheed on February 2012 had all the essentials of a coup d’etat – is also on the document. Nilam remains under suspension after being relieved of his duties in January.

The first letter – which preceded an internal shuffle, including a marine commander being switched to another unit – was followed by a second piece of correspondence in which First Lieutenant Mohamed Haleem requested resignation from the defense force over “difficulties in executing his duties”.

“I do not believe the security services are currently adhering to the constitutional provisions stated in articles 237 and 238. Also, while the spirit of article 246 of the constitution is, to refrain from political affiliations and to treat equally among the people and different groups, respecting the principles of Islam and human dignity, I do not see this currently happening [within the security services],” First Lieutenant Haleem stated in the letter.

“For the last 23 years [of my military service], I have served this country under a solemn oath taken in the name of Allah, I do not see any way that I can carry out my duties as prescribed in the constitution and the military act, while in this position, therefore I request you to relieve me from my duties,” he concluded.

General Didi appeals the MNDF to uphold the law

Former Brigadier General Ibrahim Mohamed Didi – regarded as a hero for his exploits during the 1988 Tamil coup attempt – also issued a letter over social media earlier this week.

“Given the sad state of affairs this country has fallen to, as a person who came out to sacrifice my life to protect holy Islam and this nation when required, as a person who would still take any action required in the best interest of this country, people and religion and as a person who has been trained and acquired military expertise at the expense of the public funds, I could not remain silent today. I believe it is a national and a religious duty to say something on the issue,” he wrote.

“My advice to the military officers is: ‘Do not give the opportunity to anyone who plans to rule this country by taking the laws to their own hands and override the constitution and undermine the constitutional framework of this country’,” wrote Didi, who was the Male’ Area Commander during the 7 February 2012 controversial power transfer before resigning “prematurely” from his 32 year career on July 16, 2012.

similar plea was also made by President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan in an address to the nation this week, during which he called upon security services to “prioritise the greater interest of this state”.

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Maldives Police Service launch election operation

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) has begun sending large numbers of police officers to the islands in preparation for the upcoming presidential election.

The MPS launched ‘Operation Blue Waves’ at 6:00pm on August 15 and will continue it “until voting ends and the elected president is officially sworn in”. The stated objective of the operation is “making the presidential elections proceed peacefully”.

The second-ever democratic presidential election in the Maldives is scheduled for September 7, while the second-round runoff will take place (if necessary) October 28, followed by the newly elected president taking the oath of office November 11.

‘Operation Blue Waves’ priorities include “stopping campaign members from breaking any campaign laws as well as stopping any incident that may occur”.

The MPS has stated that a large number of police officers from Male’ and the atolls are participating in the operation.

While normal patrolling will continue in Male’, additional police officers will also be deployed under ‘Operation Blue Waves’ to “maintain peace” by patrolling the capital in two shifts.

The MPS has begun sending officers to the islands Saturday (August 17), with police teams sent to most central and southern atolls, including Faafu, Dhaalu, Meemu, Thaa, Laamu, and Huvadhoo Atolls, as well as Fuvahmulah and Addu City.

Additionally, police officers who have recently completed the Police Recruitment Training Course on Vaanee in Dhaalu Atoll, are to be deployed in the atolls north of Male’.

Meanwhile, police are to be deployed from Male’ to the northern atolls today (August 18).

Prior to launching ‘Operation Blue Waves’ the police had several discussion meetings with the Elections Commission (EC) regarding the “assistance police can offer”, Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News Thursday (August 15).

Haneef explained the proposed MPS elections assistance included: providing security for EC heads and officials, election offices, candidates and their running mates; stationing police officers on every inhabited island; making voting arrangements for incarcerated individuals; curbing criminal offenses; and establishing protocols for incidents that might occur during elections.

The MPS plans to maintain peaceful law and order and public safety during the election by “increasing the visibility of police actions during elections, as per the rules regarding the presidential election”, said Haneef.

There will be a “police presence on every island where vote boxes are to be kept”, he noted.

“Police teams will be stationed 100 feet away from the ballot boxes in normal situations,” Haneef continued. Officers will also “attend criminal offences whether they occur at the vote centre, or otherwise”.

Police have been trained for “various possible scenarios” and “units to act during emergency situations will be kept on alert,” he explained.

“[Additionally,] discussions have been held between the MPS and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) to establish protocols for joint operations to bring back order,” Haneef added.

Elections Commission regulations

Currently the EC is drafting a document to articulate what the MPS’ mandate will be during the September 7 presidential elections, which is to be made public this week.

EC President Fuwad Thowfeek outlined some of the key regulations related to concerns regarding police interference with elections while speaking with Minivan News in July.

“Police cannot stand within a 100 foot radius of the ballot box,” Thowfeek confirmed.

“Police can enter the area only if the Head of Polling Station requests their assistance to control any criminal activity that goes beyond his control,” he continued.

“The role of the police will be to assist the Elections Commission in keeping peace and public safety,” he added.

Last week, EC Vice President Ahmed Fayaz further explained to Minivan News that while the commission has requested the MPS play a supporting role to help ensure peaceful, free and fair elections take place, police officers cannot intervene without a specific EC request.

“Police can intervene only at the request of the Elections Commission staff,” said Fayaz.

“The police are playing a support role and support will be requested [by EC officials] in case anything happens that would prevent a smooth election,” he continued.

“We have requested police provide assistance on every single island that will have ballot boxes,” he added.

The MPS mandate regarding elections is limited to enforcing law and order and monitoring the situation on each island, Fayaz noted.

MPS manipulating election: MDP

Meanwhile, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has continued to accuse both the government and senior police officials of trying to undermine free and fair elections, alleging the institution was actively seeking lists detailing the country’s deceased in an attempts to try and rig voting.

Earlier this month, MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed that concerns about police trying to seek the details of deceased nationals reflected the party’s wider suspicions that senior figures in the MPS were trying to use their influence to manipulate the election.

Ghafoor said one key concern had been an announcement back in June that staff at the Department of National Registration were refusing to continue issuing national identity cards 94 days before elections, complaining of a malfunctioning air conditioning unit.

Yesterday (August 17) the EC revealed that 38 people’s names have been fraudulently re-registered to vote outside of their home towns in next month’s presidential poll.

However, earlier this month the EC rejected any possibility that the identities of deceased citizens could be used to fraudulently vote in the upcoming election.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed also emphasised his concerns about police influencing September’s presidential election results while speaking at an MDP campaign rally in July.

“According to information I am getting, [Police Commissioner] Abdulla Riyaz is instructing police officers to barge into polling stations upon his signal, after two individuals enter and create a scene,” Nasheed declared.

The second method by which the police will attempt to ruin the elections is intervening during the vote counting process, after claiming that difficulties are being experienced, such as the election being “rigged”, Nasheed alleged.

The MDP maintains that its presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed resigned on February 7, 2012 in a coup d’etat instigated by mutinying police officers of the Special Operations (SO) command.

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Thousands of voters failing to re-register to vote in Male before August 7 deadline, warns Elections Commission

Only 11,000 out of an estimated 65,000 Maldivians have registered to vote outside of their permanent residence for the September 7 presidential election, with many unregistered voters confident they will not encounter problems voting on election day.

Despite this confidence, many of these same voters have also cited confusion or a lack of awareness about registration and voting regulations.

While public response to the voter re-registration process has been poor, Maldivians can only re-register until August 7, after which time the window of opportunity will end, Elections Commission (EC) President Fuwad Thowfeek told local media.

“We urge everyone to pay special heed to the re-registration. Once the deadline ends, we won’t allow any more chances because we need to verify the forms as well,” Thowfeek explained.

The EC has received some registration forms from political parties that are taking part in the process, which Thowfeek hopes many people are using to re-register to vote prior to the deadline.

The 54,000 person voter registration shortfall has prompted the EC to establish a voter registration desk in the Raalhugandu area – Male’s surf point, adjacent to the Tsunami Monument in Henviru ward – openly nightly from 9:30pm to 11:00pm.

To try and understand what is preventing so many Maldivians from registering to vote, Minivan News spoke to a cross-section of youth – individuals between 18 and 35 years-old – and asked: 1) Whether they plan to vote in the September’s presidential election; 2) Where they plan to cast their vote; 3) If they have registered to vote in that location; 4) If they have checked the voter registration list previously published in the Government Gazette, or with the EC.

An overwhelming majority of those questioned expressed passionate excitement about the upcoming elections and said they plan to vote, and enthusiastically voiced support for a particular political party. However, many of the same individuals were unaware – and even unconcerned – about the voter re-registration process.

“Yeah, I’m gonna vote here in Male’. I think I’m registered, cause a guy from the [island] council talked about it and he took a photocopy of my ID card,” said a 20 year-old, originally from Haa Alif Atoll now living in Male’.

“I didn’t check the [voter registration] list. What does it contain – the list of people who can vote this year?” he asked.

Maldivians originally from the atolls now living in Male’ have also said they find the voter registration process for the Male’ Dhaftharu – a special registry for people who are Male’ residents, but are from other islands – to be “too complicated” or “time consuming”.

“‘Ehburun’ – I support the [Maldivian Democratic Party] (MDP)!” exclaimed a 25 year-old safari boat worker from Shaviyani Atoll, who lives in Male’ with his wife and young children.

He said he plans to vote but has had “no time” to research the voter registration process or check the voter registration list and juggle family and work responsibilities. His wife is also politically passionate, and believes they will have no issues voting on election day, but has not checked the voter registry.

Numerous individuals do not think they need to re-register to vote, especially if they voted in a recent election or if they plan to vote on their home island.

“I will be registered on my island. I’ll be able to walk into the polling station on my island and vote, no problem. I have not checked [the status of] my registration, because there’s no need,” said a 22 year-old who is working and studying in Male’.

This sentiment was reflected almost verbatim by a 21 year-old from Meemu Atoll who works in a private business office in Male’: “I don’t know if I’m registered, but there’s no need. I’ll go to my island on election day and be able to vote no problem.”

Those who plan to travel back to their home islands to vote are completely confident political parties will provide boat transport on election day, and that weather causing rough seas will not be a problem.

Those who plan to travel to their islands – from atolls in the far north to the far south of the Maldives – are indiscriminate about which political party boat they will take, even if it means they will be accepting transport from a party they will not be voting for.

University students studying in Male’ have also told Minivan News that because “transportation is difficult” they are currently looking for scheduled trips to their home islands, but will ultimately have to seek out political party boats traveling from Male’ to the islands on election day. The transport provided by political parties tends to be more “luxurious” than regular ferries, some said.

These college students feel because they are studying full time, and many simultaneously work full time jobs, the EC registration process is too complicated and not flexible enough to accommodate their schedules.

Additionally, they “do not trust political parties enough to register through them”.

Meanwhile, many resort workers are still unsure of the location they will be voting and therefore have not registered to vote.

“I’m not sure if there will be a ballot box on the resort. We have not been informed by the resort management,” said a water sports instructor working on a resort near Male’.

He explained that the Maldivian staff also have not been informed if the resort will provide time off or transportation to another island to vote – and they were not notified during the 2008 presidential election either.

“I want to vote, but even if I knew where I should be voting, I only get one day off, so I cannot come to Male’ to register,” the water-sports instructor added. “There needs to be an online registration system.”

Another resort worker noted that he recalls a voter registration SMS reminder  “bouncing around a while back”, but is still unclear on whether he even needs to register to be eligible to vote.

The EC earlier revealed that only 56 of the country’s 100 resort islands had agreed to allow ballot boxes for staff to vote.

“As an alternative, we’ll place boxes in the islands closest inhabited island and they’ll send their employees [to vote],” Thowfeek said at the time. “Resorts cannot stop their staff from going [to vote] because we have an understanding, an arrangement with them. If they try to stop [their employees from voting] we will take the necessary actions [against them].”

Traveling abroad for work during election has also created problems for some Maldivians.

“If we travel we will miss the election. There should be an early voting system,” said a 25 year-old working in Male’.

Even individuals actively involved in campaigning for a particular political party and assisting with the voter registration process for their constituency are not entirely clear about the re-registration process.

“I’m not sure when the deadline is,” said a 23 year-old campaign volunteer who works in Male’.

“I’m definitely voting for MDP,” declared one 22 year-old in Male’, however though he said he has been very active organising various events – political and non-political – in his neighborhood, he did not think he needed to register to vote.

Voter apathy

While the lack of voter registration awareness has not deterred many Maldivian youth from confidently believing they will be able to vote on September 7 without issue, there are some individuals who feel so politically disenfranchised they are choosing not to vote.

“It won’t matter whether I vote, nothing changes for us, we are mistreated by police under every government administration,” said a 22 year-old working in Male’. “Only politicians and their friends have rights, no one else does.”

“I don’t feel like voting since no one will be willing to do anything good for the citizens. When it comes to voting, they’ll tell us it’s our right. But when we go to get our rights, there’s no rights for us,” said a 23 year-old Maldivian studying abroad in Sri Lanka.

“For instance, what about the parents of the murdered guys? Where do they go to get justice for their murdered sons?” he asked.

“You see there’s no candidate that I would like to vote for. I hate each and every one. Everyone [running for president] is out for their own good, no one is going to help the country develop. Neither is any citizen going to get benefits,” he added.

Some Maldivians are planning to vote if the elections continue on to a second round, but say they do not think it is necessary to vote in the first round.

“MDP has so many supporters they don’t need my vote. Ehburun! But if they don’t win in the first round, then I’ll vote in the second,” said a 25 year-old Male’ resident.

EC Hotline Help

The EC has stressed that they wish to hear any and all issues, concerns, or complaints voters may have in regard to the upcoming elections.

“We are here to listen and check into any problems,” said Thowfeek. “Anyone can call the EC regarding any problem, we currently have 12 lines and will increase the number of reception lines as demand increases.”

Currently. the EC hotline is staffed 8:00am to 8:00pm, however as elections day approaches the line hours will be extended, Thowfeek explained.

Maldivians can call or SMS to determine where they are registered to vote, which political party they are registered with, to report any problem or difficulties, and to seek any information.

The Elections Commission hotline is 1414.

The SMS codes for enquiries are as follows:

SMS PPR(space)(ID#) – current political party registration
SMS Voterinformationsystem(space)(ID#) – respective polling place location based on voter registration

Additionally, voter registration, including political party affiliation, can be verified in the Maldives’ government gazette.

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Findings in Huraa drowning investigation revealed to families

The Education Ministry has shared the results of its investigation into the drowning accident in Kaafu atoll Huraa with families of the deceased. The accident left four students and a principal of Hiriya School dead earlier this month.

Details of the investigation have not been released to the public.

The Ministry did issue a statement recommending schools amend their budgets to accommodate a program which would establish safety measures, implement precautionary measures at campsites jointly with relevant authorities, and familiarise management officials and employees with these measures by the end of the year, Haveeru reports.

Police are continuing their investigation of the incident. Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said investigators are taking care to respect families and friends involved.

“The police are doing a very detailed investigation, and we are respecting the victims’ families, students, teachers and classmates. We have to give them time to recover, so we are not forcing them to participate more than they are willing to at this time,” said Shiyam.

Shiyam said evidence from the site of the incident and nearby Huraa island has been gathered and is being processed. He said the investigation will be done as soon as possible.

Minister Shifa Mohamed, School Board Chairperson, Deputy Education Minister Dr Abdulla Nazeer and Dr Abdul Muhsin Mohamed, who chaired the committee tasked to investigate the accident, also met with the families of the deceased, reports Haveeru. Education Minister Abdullah Nazeer assured the families that the recommended measures would be implemented.

The Education Ministry had not responded to inquiries at time of press.

Nashath Saeed of Meenaz/Gaaf Alif atoll Dhehvadhoo, Mariyam Naaz of Suvaasaage/Haa Alif atoll Hoarafushi, Aishath Shaaniha of Handhuvary Villa/Raa atoll Rasmaadhoo and Mariyam Shaiha of Maafannu Moisha and Principal Ali Nazim drowned during a Fisheries Science field trip to the campsite in Huraa.

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