President’s Cronies at the Elections Commission on the Verge of Stealing Elections, Weeks Before Polling Day- Joint Opposition

14 August, 2018, MALE: The Joint Opposition – whose candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ‘Ibu’ is competing with President Yameen in presidential elections on 23 September — is extremely worried that the President and the Elections Commission have conspired to steal the election weeks before polling day. The Joint Opposition’s concerns centre around the Elections Commission’s voter re-registration drive, which appears to be a deliberate exercise in vote rigging and electoral manipulation. 

On 13 August, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on Male’ for an “early resumption of the political process and [to] allow democratic institutions, including the judiciary to function independently in a fair and transparent manner… this will create [a] conducive environment for the presidential elections.”

The Maldivian government rejected Prime Minister Modi’s comments out of hand today, in a statement released by the Maldives Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The foreign ministry claimed that campaigning for the elections was going “smoothly” and said the elections would be “free, fair and credible.”

The foreign ministry’s statement is in direct contradiction to the defence minister, however. Adam Shareef Umar claimed on his Facebook page on 4 August that he had uncovered a “plot to destabilise the Maldives” and ordered the police and military to be on high alert. The Minister did not make the announcement through the proper ministerial channels, nor did he reveal any evidence of the so-called plot.

Elections Commission’s Re-Registration Fraud

1. The initial voters list released by the EC did not comply will the guidelines. The list did not include the voters’ identification number, and voters’ photos, in contravention of the guidelines. This makes it very difficult to identify individual voters and will facilitate voter fraud.

While the opposition protested over this breach, the Elections Commission has failed to announce a credible figure for re- registered voters, 3 days past the re- registration deadline. The opposition is concerned the EC has doctored figures, especially amidst reports that some Government loyalists have been issued double ID cards which they can use to vote at two different locations.

2. The Elections Commission has also not given a date for publishing the final voters list. The Joint Opposition candidate, MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has announced he is sceptical of the process, and will not endorse the voters list unless he can verify its credibility. The Maldives’ elections guidelines require candidates’ signatures on the list.

3. The Government has forced all civil servants and employees of state owned companies — some 66,000 voters – to re-register to vote by submitting their forms to a person at their place of work. However, that person has invariably been a political activist of the ruling party, who can then quietly throw away the re-registration forms of people who are known to support the opposition. President Yameen won the 2013 election by a mere 5,000 votes.

This has caused alarm as many of the civil servants have still not been registered.

4. Even more outrageously, leaked video showed that the persons collecting the re-registration forms have not been forwarding them to the Elections Commission, but to President Yameen’s campaign headquarters, where they are further vetted and information from the forms are collected. 

In the video, uploaded onto the ruling PPM’s social media account in July, the First Lady tells President Yameen that voter registration forms from civil servants and state-owned company staff are sent to the ruling party. “[Forms from] civil service and companies will come tonight…They will be registered,” she is heard saying in the video. “It is now being entered.” The PPM later removed the video, but it had already been shared on social media. The Elections Commission has refused to investigate this outrage. 

5. The Elections Commission is also rumoured to be accepting re registration forms from the Yameen camp, past the deadline. This comes amidst a growing public outrage that many are not re- registered, or are being registered to the wrong place.

6. The Elections Commission has also introduced a number of other measures that will make it more difficult for opposition activists to monitor the vote count, for example, contrary to past practice, candidates’ representatives and officials will not be allowed to take in their own list of voters to observe at each station. Observers are only allowed to take in the entire initial voters list- without the changes after the re registration. This way, observers will not be able to determine if people are not registered to the box vote there, opening up the way for massive voter fraud.

7. The Police have also diverted from past practice, and reportedly decided not to allow public any access to where the votes will be counted. This raises alarm, especially given Police involvement in stealing the 2013 elections.

8. The Police have also warned of punitive measures over campaign posters of convicted opposition leaders. The Police did not cite a legal basis for the warning. They have also ordered local campaigns to remove opposition campaign paraphernalia ahead of the President’s and the First Lady’s campaign visit. The ruling party has also been employing state staff to remove the opposition candidate’s posters.

9. There have been a number of attacks on opposition campaign quarters, including an attempt on the candidate, since campaigning began. The Police have not investigated any of these.

10. The state media actively campaigns for the President, while the media watchdog has imposed a hefty fine of MVR 2 million on private broadcaster- Raajje TV. Raajje TV accused the watchdog of trying to obstruct t its covergae of the campaign, and attempts to hold the Government accountable.

Foreign journalists are unable to obtain accreditation to cover the Maldives, due to tightening of visa requirements.

11. The Elections Commission has implemented a number of other, technical and new changes to this election, all of which, when added up, could result in massive fraud to favour President Yameen. Past practices for observers, monitors, publishing the final list, vote counting, announcing results, and other electoral processes have not been questioned. Therefore the Commission’s decision to tighten and restrict processes are unacceptable.

The Elections Commission is headed by a former senior official of President Yameen’s political party, and the Commission is stacked full of government-appointed cronies. Maldivians fear the PPM, the Elections Commission, the Police and the Supreme Court are working in tandem so that any outcome can be engineered. The Elections Commission can declare a victory for President Yameen, with the Police and the military implementing it, and the Supreme Court ratifying it. The 2013 experience, and President Yameen’s actions show this is not without precedence.

The Elections Commission Chief, Ahmed Shareef is already complicit in voter fraud. The Joint Opposition calls on the Elections Commission, the Police and other state institutions to remain within their constitutional mandate, and to uphold the people’s right to a free, fair and credible elections.

In July, the European Union European Union warned of sanctions against Maldives human rights violators.