17 September 2018, MALE: The Joint Opposition Coalition, whose candidate Ibrahim M. Solih (Ibu) is contesting the upcoming presidential elections, learned with utter dismay yesterday that the Elections Commission has rushed in new, secret methods of counting the votes that open up the prospect of an outright theft of the election.
In a training meeting held in Male’ — to which credible, local NGOs were not invited — the Elections Commission spelt out how it intends to depart from previous elections in counting the vote.
In previous elections, independent and political party observers were allowed to watch the entire vote counting process, witnessing the result of each ballot paper, and confirming that it was placed on the correct pile (in Sunday’s election, there will be three piles: one for Yameen, one for Ibu, and one for invalid votes).
However, the Elections Commission has now decided that observers will not be able to witness the result of each ballot paper. Instead, observers will be shown the piles of ballot papers, after they have been bundled and stapled together — making verification impossible.
Without being able to observe each ballot paper, and which pile it has been placed on, observers will have no way of knowing if the vote counting has been done fairly.
The new change, a departure from all elections since 2008, paves the way for massive vote counting fraud. By not displaying each individual ballot, opposition Observers or others have no way of contesting the official’s word. This casts doubt on the entire vote counting process, and therefore the whole electoral process.
New changes to the vote counting complaints procedure
If this wasn’t enough, the Elections Commission has also changed the way elections observers can make a complaint during the vote counting.
In previous elections, if an election observer noticed that, for example, a ballot for one candidate was placed in the pile for a different candidate, they could immediately make a complaint and the issue would be addressed.
However, in this election, the Elections Commission has changed the rules so complaints are only dealt with after the final elections results have been publicly announced. This is deeply troubling.
For instance, if observers at a ballot box notice that, during counting, votes for Ibu are being placed in the pile of votes for Yameen, they will not be able to blow the whistle and instantly rectify the problem. Instead, their complaint will be lodged, and sent to the Elections Commission’s ‘complaints bureau’ in Male’, where it may or may not be looked into. This will impact the outcome of the results.
This change appears to be a deliberate attempt by the Elections Commission to make it easier to commit fraud in the vote counting, as well as reduce the transparency and effectiveness of the complaints procedure.
Bias Elections Commission secretly planning to use tablet computers to tally the vote
Already, the Elections Commission is stacked full of ruling party cronies, including the Elections Commissioner himself, Ahmed Shareef, who for years was the Secretary-General of President Yameen’s political party.
In recent weeks, the opposition has witnessed numerous Elections Commission staff — the very people who will be counting the vote — participating at election rallies for President Yameen, giving speeches praising the president, and waving ruling party campaign flags.
Furthermore, in recent days the opposition learned – through leaked documents – that the Elections Commission is secretly planning to use tablet computers at each ballot box to tally up the final votes, in breach of the Maldives Elections Act.
An EC training document, leaked online last week, explains to EC officials at each polling station that, after the vote has been counted, they must enter the result on the tablet computer and wait for a ‘printed confirmation’ before publicly announcing the result.
The Elections Act, Article 57 is very clear on this: the results must be announced and published physically at each polling station, and those results then communicated to the central Commission. The Elections Commission’s plan to use the tablets therefore is in direct contravention of the law, as well as breaking with past practice.
Commenting on the Elections Commission’s secret changes, an opposition spokesperson said:
“The Elections Commission appears to be planning a daylight robbery of the presidential election.
“The fact that all these last minute, and secret, changes are occurring suggests that President Yameen’s polling numbers look soft, and his cronies at the Elections Commission are rushing through new ways to rig the vote, in order to favour their political master.
“This is a brazen, shameful, and illegal attempt to thwart the will of the Maldivian people, and Elections Commission officials should be held personally accountable for this outrage.”