Supreme Court guidelines should be incorporated in electoral laws, says attorney general

A 16-point guideline imposed by the Supreme Court on the Elections Commission (EC) in a controversial judgment annulling the first round of last year’s presidential election should be incorporated into electoral laws, Attorney General Mohamed Anil has said.

Local media has reported Anil as saying at a symposium on improving the electoral system held at Bandos Island Resort yesterday that amendments to election laws should be submitted to parliament.

The guidelines were issued by the apex court to strengthen the electoral framework and ensure that polls are free and fair, Anil said, suggesting that problems arose during the presidential election as a result of not amending laws in light of past experiences.

Among issues that needed to be addressed ahead of the next election cycle, said Anil, were problems with re-registration, assigning constituencies for citizens in the Malé municipality special registry, and strengthening the mechanism for addressing complaints.

Additionally, vote buying, bribery, and campaign finance reforms needed to be addressed, Anil said, adding that the percentage of women in elected public office could also be addressed through laws.

The three-day “Electoral Processes in the Maldives” symposium was organised jointly by the EC and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The EC explained in a joint press statement with IFES and USAID that “the symposium will provide a platform for stakeholders to present their views on key aspects of the electoral process, including legislative frameworks, operations, and inter-agency cooperation.”

“Participants will include the Elections Commission, Anti-Corruption Commission, Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, Attorney General’s Office, Prosecutor General’s Office, media organisations, political parties, civil society, and domestic and international observation organisations and experts.”

In January, a Commonwealth observer group recommended that the People’s Majlis examine the consistency and workability of the Supreme Court guidelines, suggesting that it “appeared to undermine the authority of the Election Commission, were inconsistent with or contrary to electoral law, and were at odds with the Constitution.”

While approval of voter lists was required by the apex court guideline, January’s local council elections went ahead despite only 147 out of 543 independent candidates signing the lists. The EC attempted to obtain signatures from some 2,463 candidates.

While the EC had also criticised the guidelines as “restrictions” that undermine its independence, UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay accused the court of “interfering excessively in the presidential elections, and in so doing is subverting the democratic process and violating the right of Maldivians to freely elect their representatives.”


Candidates from political parties finish signing voter lists

All 188 candidates representing political parties in the upcoming parliamentary elections finished signing voter lists by noon today, Elections Commission (EC) Director General Mohamed Shakeel has confirmed.

Shakeel told Minivan News, however, that some independent candidates have not signed the final eligible voters registry.

Of the 114 independent candidates, the EC media official said 18 candidates have not signed the lists.

Aside from the 18 independent candidates failing to sign, Shakeel said the EC’s “preparations for the election are perfectly on schedule.”

He noted that the EC had decided to extend the period offered for candidates to complete signing the list to 12:00pm today.

The commission has yet to make a decision on a further extension, he added.

Candidates were invited to the Dharubaaruge convention centre during the weekend to sign off on the final lists.

Obtaining signatures of candidates on the voter lists used at polling stations was among the 16-point guideline imposed on the EC by the Supreme Court in its judgment annulling the September 7 presidential polls last year.

The EC was required to ensure that the voter lists are agreed upon as valid by candidates or their representatives ahead of the polls.

However, the local council elections on January 18 took place as scheduled despite candidates signing voter lists for just 81 out of 464 ballot boxes.

Of 543 independent candidates, only 147 candidates had signed the lists.

The 302 candidates contesting the second multi-party parliamentary elections meanwhile include 85 candidates from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, 50 candidates from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives, 28 from the Jumhooree Party, 12 from the religious conservative Adhaalath Party, seven from the Maldives Development Alliance, and six from the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party.


The EC’s capacity to conduct the parliamentary polls as scheduled on March 22 was thrown into doubt last week following the Supreme Court’s controversial removal of EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek and Deputy Chair Ahmed Fayaz for contempt of court.

Less than two weeks before the election, the dismissals left the EC without the three members required for a legal quorum to hold meetings and approve decisions.

However, on Wednesday (March 12), parliament approved Ismail Habeeb to the commission to replace former member Ibrahim ‘Ogaru’ Waheed, who had resigned in October citing poor health.

Following the vote to approve Habeeb, President Abdulla Yameen presented the letter of appointment to the former EC director on Thursday morning.

Shakeel noted today that the decision to extend the period for signing voter lists after the initial deadline expired at 10:00pm last night was made at a commission meeting.

The President’s Office welcomed parliament’s decision to approve Habeeb to the commission, noting that it “enables the EC to function with the legally required quorum and hold the general elections scheduled for 22 March 2014”.


Presidential polls set for November 9

The Elections Commission (EC) has set the first round of presidential elections for November 9, after the police forcibly brought a Supreme Court-ordered revote to a halt on October 19.

“We have decided to hold the first round of presidential elections on November 9, and if necessary, a second round on November 16,” Elections Commission President Fuwad Thowfeek said.

The Supreme Court annulled the first round of presidential polls held on September citing electoral fraud despite unanimous domestic and international praise over a free and fair vote. The apex court delineated 16 guidelines to hold a revote by October 20.

According to the guidelines, the EC must obtain signatures from all candidates on the voter registry. However, the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and Jumhooree Party (JP) refused to approve the lists and police stopped the election an hour before polling was to begin. The move has prompted widespread international concern and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protests.

Thowfeek said the EC had held meetings with the President, the cabinet and political parties on the earliest possible date for a new election.

“We have said, when we get to a certain point, when a certain party doesn’t do what they must do, it should not affect the entire election. If that is the case, we will never be able to hold an election,” Thowfeek said.

“They assured us they will not allow for these kind of obstructions in the upcoming election. Ministers have given us commitment that they will find a solution and facilitate this. That is why we have started work again. If the same thing happened as before, this is not something we must do. We are starting work again because we are confident there will be an election. I am certain we will succeed this time,” he added.

During the various meetings, the government had said it would provide facilities to verify fingerprints re-registration forms – one of JP and PPM’s conditions for approving the voter registry. The EC has said the commission does not have the capacity to do so.

The EC will continue to follow the Supreme Court’s guidelines, but will seek to change them in the future, Thowfeek said. In a previous interview on Television Maldives (TVM), he described the guidelines as “restrictions.”

“I hope the government considers these restrictions in the future and finds a solution. Otherwise, holding elections will become impossible and that affects the most fundamental [right] in a democracy.”

After technical information regarding the EC’s database was shared with the Supreme Court during the vote annulment hearing, Thowfeek said the EC’s server had been compromised with external actors accessing the database and changing data. However, he believes the security glitches will be fixed before the upcoming election.

“We are working with the NCIT [National Center for Information Technology]. They have not given us a report yet. They are working non-stop. We are certain when the election comes, we will be able to block everyone out of our system and they will no longer have access to our data. We are proceeding with the assurance given to us by technical people,” Thowfeek said.

The EC said within the next three weeks, it would allow registration for new eligible voters, and re-registration for voters who will be voting in a different location other than their home island. However, voters who re-registered for October 19 will not need to submit re-registration forms again.

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has said he does not wish to stay on as President even one day beyond the end of the presidential term on November 11. If no candidate wins over 50 percent in the first round of polls and a second round needs to be held, interim arrangements will have to be made. The Supreme Court has previously said Waheed’s government would continue until a new president is elected.

The JP and PPM have pledged their support to Waheed staying on, but former President and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed has called for Waheed to resign, allowing a transitional government under the Speaker of Parliament to oversee elections.