British business tycoon Sir Richard Branson has called for free elections “as soon as possible” in the Maldives, after police blocked the election from taking place on October 19.
The head of the Virgin Empire, who has previously blogged on the Maldives’ political turmoil, said he had drafted an article several weeks ago “to praise President Waheed for taking his country back into free and fair elections and bringing true democracy back to the country.”
“But before I had chance to publish it, the Maldives police intervened and stopped the ballot boxes reaching the polling stations,” Branson said.
His comments follow findings from the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) that the police stopped the election illegally, in violation of the constitution.
Additionally, a leaked Human Rights Commission (HRCM) report obtained by Minivan News questions the credibility of the evidence used by the Supreme Court to annul the first round of presidential polls, and the court’s authority to issue guidelines effectively permitting candidates to effectively veto future elections.
“Knowing President Waheed as I do, my instinct is that he is not behind the blocking of the election process, and that other people who didn’t do well in the first round of the elections are trying to stop a fair election taking place,” the tycoon suggested.
Waheed, who received 5.13 percent of the vote in the annulled first round, has withdrawn from the revote and publicly stated that he has no intention of remaining in power after the end of the presidential term on November 11.
“I am not comfortable to stay on. It would be my preference that there be an elected President. And it would also be my preference that if this is not possible, then there would be some other arrangement made,” Waheed told The Hindu.
Branson however observed that while the election had been rescheduled for November 9, “the Maldives Supreme Court has brought a ruling that the candidates will have the power of veto – so unless all candidates agree to the electoral roll there will be no elections.”
“Plus, if a run off is needed it will be on November 16th, which is after the expiry of the current presidential term, creating a constitutional void. This whole process is a huge threat to democracy, which perhaps sadly is what some of the candidates want, having seen how the public voted in the first election round,” Branson wrote.
“The people of the Maldives need fair representation and they need free elections as soon as possible. Should that not happen, governments must lobby for change and the world community must demand action until free, fair elections take place,” he concluded.
Branson first waded into Maldivian politics on his blog on February 24 2012, soon after Waheed’s controversial ascension to power amid a police mutiny earlier that month.
Branson publicly called for President Waheed to “do the right thing” and hold free and fair elections before the end of the year.
It was, Branson wrote to Dr Waheed, “completely astounding that you have been part of an overthrow of a democratically elected government that has effectively let the old regime back into power.”
“Knowing you, I would assume that you were given no choice and that it was through threats that you have ended up in this position,” Branson said. “I do very much hope that was the case rather than you doing it of your own free will.”
Days later, Branson wrote another entry, saying that he had spoken on the phone to Dr Waheed, who told him he had appointed “a respected person” to examine the truth of what caused President Nasheed to “resign”.
“He says that he didn’t know who issued an arrest warrant for President Nasheed after he left office but that it had been rescinded within 48 hours. He is determined to be an honest broker, to be seen to be one, and to get everyone’s confidence. He said that he offered to bring in people from President Nasheed’s party but they refused to join.”
A few days later, Branson wrote a third post, resuming his first call for early elections “as soon as feasibly possible”.