EC warns parliament over VTV’s attempt to “incite uprising” against commission

The Elections Commission (EC) has raised concerns in Parliament’s National Security Committee that there may not be a suitable environment for the presidential election’s second round should Villa TV (VTV), owned by Gasim Ibrahim and his Jumhooree Party (JP), continue to deliberately spread false information and incite people to rise up against the commission.

The National Security Committee unanimously approved the EC’s request to share their concerns about local media spreading JP’s “baseless and unfounded” claims last Friday (September 13).

The parliamentary committee then summoned the Elections Commission (EC), the Maldives Police Service (MPS), the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) to appear for questioning Saturday (September 14) in regard to its investigation into the EC case filed against the JP.

“For the past week, the media has been trying to spread a lot of untrue stories. There have been so many figures quoted with no truth in them,” EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek told Minivan News yesterday (September 15).

“The problem isn’t local media in general, but VTV has been doing this deliberately,” said Thowfeek.

VTV had been continuously broadcasting the live program ‘Olhuvaalee Vote Ge Namugai’ (‘fraud in the name of the vote’) as well as reports against the EC and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), since the preliminary results from presidential election’s first round indicated Gasim placed third with 24.07 percent, a total of 50,422 votes.

“We went to Parliament’s National Security Committee and raised these concerns because VTV and JP [members] at their ‘jagaha’ (campaign meeting hub) are inciting people to uprise,” said Thowfeek.

“We are concerned that if they keep continuing that we may not find the opportunity for a peaceful, harmonious environment suitable for voting on the 28th,” he continued.

During the National Security Committee meeting these issues were brought to the attention of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), Maldives Police Service (MPS), and Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC).

“These three institutions were present during the second round of the meeting Saturday – MBC because of VTV’s role in broadcasting these things all day and night,” noted Thowfeek.

“The MNDF and MPS [were notified] because the JP and VTV have continued to call on people to obstruct and oppose the second round of elections,” he explained.

“However, I noticed a change in VTV’s content after the National Security Committee meeting, because I didn’t see the ‘Olhuvaalee Vote Ge Namugai’ program broadcast Saturday night,” he added.

Minivan News observed this morning (September 16) that the ‘breaking news’ on VTV involved broadcasting as fact allegations that the EC was destroying election-related documents.

Police acted on the JP’s claim and barricaded the entrance to the EC secretariat early this morning, however by afternoon police had released a statement confirming that no documents potentially affecting the election results had been found among those disposed of by the commission.

“It’s really sad that one of the [presidential election] contestants – after he failed to get the votes required to compete in the second round – has behaved in such a very immature manner,” said Thowfeek.

“Gasim and [his running mate, Dr Hassan] Saeed both failed in the first round of the 2008 presidential election and without any fuss or problems they accepted their defeat,” he noted. “So I thought they’d be more mature this time and not raise problems, but this time they have failed to digest their loss.”

“It’s not a good example to set for the public and it’s not a good thing for the future,” he added.

Committee statements taken out of context: EC

Thowfeek also noted that statements he and EC Member Ali Mohamed Manik gave about the voter registry during the National Security Committee meeting had been taken out of context by local media.

“Saying these [11] people [who voted in the first round] were not registered voters is not true information,” said Thowfeek.

“These people were on the voter registry list. They were on the final gazetted list that was published publicly, they are not new names,” he continued. “The were also found on the voter registry that was sent to the ballot boxes.”

Thowfeek explained that an interim voter registry document was created after the voter list was published on the government gazette – and accessible for public review so the EC could be notified of needed corrections.

While the 11 voters in question were not included on interim document, their names were found on final voter registry list sent to polling stations, he emphasised.

“Due to a clerical error the EC was not able to find their names in the correct places [on the interim document],” said Thowfeek. “It was the fault of the EC administration. However, this was a case by case issue.”

“If anyone’s name is missed to the a fault of the EC then the commission is responsible for correcting the problem and giving the person a chance to vote,” he added.

Thowfeek emphasised that international observers from 17 commonwealth countries – including Australia, Malaysia, India and UK – as well as the US, EU, Japan and Thailand had all praised the smooth, calm, peaceful, transparent and open election process.

“During a gathering we had with the international observers the evening of September 8, they said this election is just like what anybody can see in a developed country because it was so open, transparent and organised,” he added.

Local media problems

Meanwhile, MBC has launched an investigation into VTV broadcasting unsubstantiated content to incite hatred against the EC in violation of the broadcasting code of practice. The commission stated that it was investigating the matter after a case was filed by a private individual.

“The investigation is ongoing, so I cannot comment [on the VTV case],” MBC President Mohamed Shahyb told Minivan News today.

“We have to watch real time video [from VTV] which takes time,” he explained. “If it is determined that VTV breached the [broadcasting] code of practice then we will give them an opportunity to respond.”

“The commission has to follow procedures to give them time to reply, only then we can adjudicate and reach a final conclusion,” he added.

Shahyb expects the investigation will “probably” be completed by late this week or early next week.

Although the VTV case also falls within the Maldives Media Council (MMC)’s mandate, no official complaints have yet been filed, the MMC told Minivan News today.

However, the MMC did receive an SMS expressing concern with VTV’s broadcasts, which was discussed by the council’s five member committee dedicated to election issues.

With the ongoing Supreme Court and High Court cases as well as MBC’s investigation, the MMC has not decided to take any official action as of yet, however the issue is “on the table”, it noted.

The MMC also noted it had not received any official complaints regarding the conflicting and inaccurate media reporting of first round voting figures during the counting process.

Confusion over the voting figures was created by local media reports not matching those of the EC during counting, with sluggish EC figures supplemented by differing poll results, depending on the outlet chosen. One local newspaper even had voted turnout at 102 percent for much of the counting process.

Prior to the release of the provisional results at 5:00am on Saturday 8, a small group of JP supporters demonstrated outside the Dharubaruge convention centre alleging a 10,000 vote discrepancy.


Dismissed minister must be reinstated if President wants to sustain coalition: JP’s Alhan Fahmy

Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Alhan Fahmy has warned that dismissed Transport Minister Dr Ahmed Shamheed must be reinstated in order to retain the ruling coalition.

Dr Shamheed was removed from his cabinet post after he extended the Maamigili Airport lease to JP leader Gasim Ibrahim for 99 years.

In a press conference held on Tuesday (November 13) the JP stated it requested President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik reinstate Shamheed before Sunday.

Fahmy told Minivan News that he believes Shamheed should be reinstated if “Dr Waheed wants  to sustain the national unity government.”

“I don’t believe [Waheed] was unaware of the decision [to dismiss Dr Shamheed], and it is of his own irresponsibility if he says so,” Fahmy said.

“A minister shall not be dismissed under the existing political situation unless it is associated with proper reasoning.”

Speaking at the press conference on Tuesday, Fahmy said Waheed met Gasim on Monday night and what he had to say implied that the President was “not fully aware of how [the dismissal] happened.”

After looking into the dismissal, Alhan said the JP believed it was done “without a legal basis” as the JP minister had not breached any laws or official procedures but was sacked “as a result of what the minister did to implement a decision made by the government.”

“Therefore, as we believe that this happened because the President was somewhat confused or misinformed, and after making certain of all the processes that were followed with regard to [the dismissal], the Jumhoree Party has asked the President to reinstate Dr Shamheed to the cabinet before next Sunday,” Fahmy said.

The government’s actions in sacking the minister provided opportunity to level corruption allegations against the JP’s presidential candidate and were “highly damaging” to the party, the MP for Feydhoo added.

A statement from JP last week said the party would take “necessary action” following an inquiry, expressing “serious concern” with statements in the media by officials from the President’s Office regarding Shamheed’s dismissal.

Minivan tried to contact President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad, but he was not responding at time of press.

Controversy has surrounded the sacked minister following allegations that Shamheed was dismissed because of his opposition to the recent sale of a stake in the Addu International Airport Company Ltd (AIA).

The unnamed JP official, who made the allegations speaking to Villa TV, said that Shameed was removed to allow Champa Afeef – a tourism tycoon who recently bought a 30 percent stake in Addu airport – to control the airport project.

The JP official said the sacking of Shameed was intended to divert attention away from the Addu airport sale.

Following his sudden dismissal, Shamheed claimed he had been sacked following his criticism of some decisions made by the government.

“I continued to criticise President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik over the Nexbis issue. Attorney General insists that the project cannot go on. Home Minister has to be responsible for the Immigration Department. Home Minister had ordered to stop the project. But the project went on. I have voiced my discontent over several such issues. We have all seen the result of that,” Shamheed told Haveeru Online.

Shamheed refused to comment on the current situation when called by Minivan News.

Maamigili airport had originally been leased to Gasim’s Villa Group for 30 years, and according to JP, the decision to extend the lease by Shamheed had been unanimously approved by the government’s Economic Committee on November 1.

In addition to Shamheed, the Economic Committee consists of Minister of Finance Abdulla Jihad and Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Ahmed Shafeeu, Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muizzu, Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela and Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb.

Shamheed, in a quote from newspaper Haveeru, said: “Documents to extend the lease of Maamigili Airport for 99 years were sent to the transport ministry by [former President Mohamed] Nasheed’s government. But the current government delayed the matter. The present government only endorsed the decision. It was decided by the NPC [National Planning Council] during the former government.”

More recently however, Haveeru Online learned that Shamheed had announced the extension of the airport’s lease before the ministerial cabinet had sanctioned it.

A tweet from government spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza on the day of Shamheed’s dismissal read: “Transport Minister Dr Shamheed has been relieved from his duties today. Defence Minister Nazim will be the care taker until replaced by JP.”

He added that the cabinet seat will be reserved for the JP, currently the third largest party in terms of membership in the ruling coalition.

Minivan News was informed by Riza that the decision to extend the lease has not yet been reversed.

Following Shamheed’s dismissal, Dr Shamheed told Sun Online he believed he was sacked for difference of opinion with the President on a number of issues, including his opposition to the sale of the AIA stake and the agreement with Nexbis to install a border control system.

On November 5, Dr Shamheed tweeted that there was “no justification” for the valuation of an asset worth US$150 million for US$13 million.


Police arrest 27 year-old in connection with vandalism of VTV

A 27 year-old man was arrested on Saturday night for his suspected involvement in the vandalism of Villa TV (VTV), a private TV station owned by resort tycoon, MP,  Judicial Services Commission (JSC) member and Jumhoree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim.

Police identified the man as Ahmed Naeem of Ladhumma house in Henveiru ward.

Another 26 year-old man surrendered himself to police after officers started looking for him regarding his involvement in the same case.

Police identified the man as Hussain Farushaan of Hulhudhoo in Seenu Atoll and said he went to the police station of his own accord on Wednesday night.

In a statement police said they were still trying to identify more persons that were involved in vandalising the VTV building during protests on March 19.

On March 19, President Dr Waheed Hassan Manik delivered his opening address to parliament amid widespread anti-government demonstrations, after the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) took to the street to prevent him from giving the speech. Violent clashes between police and protesters and sparked major unrest in the capital Male’.

Waheed delivered an abridged version of his speech amid heckling from MDP MPs.

Police told the press at the time that 80 men, 13 women and six minors were arrested in connection with the unrest on the day.

According to police, 11 police officers were injured in the protests, and one who suffered serious injuries was sent abroad for treatment.

Police Superintendent Ahmed Mohamed recently said that the attack on VTV was itself an act of terrorism and that those involved should receive “the harshest punishment possible”.


VTV presenter injured in Dhaka

A Villa TV (VTV) journalist has broken her wrist after the scaffolding she was filming on collapsed.

Aishath Usvathu was part of a VTV team broadcasting the SAAF games at Bangladesh.

According to Haveeru, Usvathu is being treated at the Scare Hospital in Dhaka and will soon be transfered to Apollo Hospital in Dhaka.

An Afghanistan cameraman who was also with Usvathu was injured.