A leaked Human Rights Commission (HRCM) report obtained by Minivan News has questioned the credibility of the evidence used by the Supreme Court to annul the first round of presidential polls held on September 7.
It also says that the apex court does not have the authority to delineate guidelines for a re-vote.
The document suggests that the 16 guidelines compromise the independence of the Elections Commission (EC) by involving various state institutions and candidates in the conducting, managing, and facilitating of the elections.
A member of the HRCM has confirmed that the organization carried out an analysis of the Supreme Court verdict, but declined to comment on the report’s authenticity.
The court annulled the September 7 polls, claiming 5641 cases of fraudulent votes – a number that could have altered the election result due to the 2677 vote margin between the second and third placed candidates.
However, the HRCM’s analysis of the 5641 cases show only 1033 votes could be considered irregular.
“The commission does not believe this is a number than can affect the elections results,” the report stated.
The document also noted the Supreme Court is tasked with administration of justice and the People’s Majlis with law making powers, and as such the Supreme Court did not have the authority to compile guidelines on electoral conduct.
“We note that the Supreme Court’s guidelines include obligations that are not present in General Elections Act (No 11/2008) and Presidential Elections Act (No 12/2008) and we believe the Supreme Court does not have the jurisdiction [to issue new obligations],” the report said.
The police halted the Supreme Court ordered re-vote on October 19, saying they would not support the election after the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and Jumhooree Party (JP) had refused to approve the voter registry.
The four judges making the majority decision contended that 5641 irregular votes were cast. According to the verdict, these included:
- 773 people with discrepancies in their national identification numbers
- 18 dead people
- 7 minors
- 225 people without national identification numbers
- Three people who voted twice
- 2830 people with discrepancies in their addresses
- 952 people with discrepancies in their names
- 7 people who were not registered in the Department of National Registration’s (DNR) database
- 819 people whose national identification numbers had been written down incorrectly by elections officials at the time of voting
In the HRCM’s analysis, only 1033 of the 5641 votes could be considered irregular – a figure which addressed:
- The seven people whose names were added to the voter registry by pen may have been to ensure an eligible voter was given the right to vote despite not being on the voter registry
- 3 repeated votes for which the report said it was unclear how many times these people voted and hence, incomplete information should not be used in a verdict
- 2830 address mismatches: “We do not believe address mismatches can influence the result of this election as this is not constituency specific,” the report said and noted that such information should be used in a verdict only if the individual has used this mismatch to violate another’s right to vote or used the information for undue benefit
- 952 name mismatches which may have been used to ensure that an eligible voter is not disenfranchised, especially if the voter is given the right to vote when all other information and picture on the identity card matches the person who comes to vote
- 819 people whose national identification numbers had been written down wrong by elections officials at the time of voting: this may be a human errors and can be crosschecked at the time of voting
The report states that the remaining 1033 cases of irregular votes does not change the outcome of the election.
In contrast to majority four judges, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz and Judge Abdulla Areef found only 473 instances of irregular votes. The two judges said the amount was not enough to invalidate entire election. In case of fraudulent votes, only the result in a specific geographic location can be annulled, not the entire election, the judges said.
The two judges also argued jurisdiction in the matter lies with the High Court, not the Supreme Court.
The HRCM report noted that the Supreme Court guidelines included obligations that are not included in the election laws.
These include obtaining candidate’s signatures on the voter registry, obtaining candidate’s approval for all elections officials active in the polling booths on polling day, and the prohibition on the use of files, phones, handbags or any item that may infringe upon a candidate’s rights.
The EC may find it difficult to implement the guidelines, as they do not state what the commission must do in the event candidates refuse to vet elections officials or sign the registry, the report said.
“Further, the prohibition on the use of phones and files inside the polling booth obstructs the duties of observers, candidate’s representatives and monitors as per article 41, 42 and 43 of the General Elections Act,” the report said.
The Supreme Court also ordered the EC to ensure, along with “relevant authorities” that acts which violate this guideline do not take place. However, the HRCM report notes that the relevant authorities are not defined and hence, “it is not clear what various state institution’s roles are in elections and may create additional issues.”
The HRCM report appears to foreshadow the difficulties the EC was to face in conducting the poll on October 19. On the eve of elections, the PPM and JP refused to sign the voter registry demanding that the EC verify a sample of fingerprinted re-registration forms.
The EC said it did not have the capacity or time to crosscheck fingerprints.
With the PPM and JP refusing to approve the voter registry, the police – mandated by the court to oversee security of ballot papers and boxes – refused to transport materials to polling stations. An hour before polls opened, the police stopped EC officials from leaving the commission’s headquarters with any documents relating to the vote.
The commission yesterday released a statement arguing that the police’s blocking of the vote contravened the constitution, the Police Act, and the Elections Act.
The EC also accused the police of obstructing vote, questioning their mandate to do so. The guidelines only ask police to oversee security of ballot boxes in transit, the EC said.
“The Supreme Court 16 guidelines delineated in the verdict are restrictions. These are locks, blocks. With those locks, it will be very difficult for us to hold elections,” EC President Fuwad Thowfeek has said in an interview to Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC).
“But if we could hold an election according to the constitution, elections laws and presidential elections laws, we will be able to hold a free election.”
After cancellation of polls on Saturday, the government, following international pressure appealed again for an early election date. The EC set a new presidential poll date for November 9, and if necessary a second round on November 16.
Speaking to the press yesterday, Thowfeek has said he hopes the government finds a solution to the Supreme Court’s restrictions in the future.
“Otherwise, holding elections will become impossible and that affects the most fundamental [right] in a democracy,” Thowfeek said. Further, failure of candidates or any other state institution to do what they must to should not affect the citizenry’s right to vote, he added.