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Maldives: Police Stop Presidential Elections

Paper No. 5584                                 Dated 20-Oct-2013

By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan

Strange it may sound, but it is true! -the Police in Maldives unilaterally prevented the Election Commission from conducting fresh elections on the 19th this month on the ground that it was being held in contravention of the Supreme Court verdict and the guide lines issued.  

The question arises- Who are the Police to prevent the elections being held under the constitutional responsibility given to the Election Commission unless there is a specific order from the Supreme Court or from the Executive President?

We could go one step further and ask- Who is running Maldives now?  Not the President who abdicated his responsibility long ago when he appointed all the loyalists and relatives of former President Gayoom in the new dispensation after the coup of Feb 7, 2012.  Not the Supreme Court either who of late has taken up the task of managing the Presidential Elections which is beyond their brief?

It now appears that it is the Police that is running the country and this is going to lead to dangerous consequences unless it is remedied sooner than later and the Police  re assigned to their traditional tasks of maintaining order.

The Drama in the early hours- on the day of election:

The Election Commission with its limited staff, had been working day and night to process the re registrations forms till the very end to ensure that the revised ballot papers and the lists reach all the polling stations on time.  Adjustments in the lists were also made of 789 persons who came of voting age between 7th September and 19th October.

The problem was one of the guide lines that said that the contesting candidates should individually sign all the electoral lists of all the booths.  This by itself is a tall order.  But when two of the three candidates, Yameen and Gasim Ibrahim not only fail to sign the lists but also disappear ( they were not available on the phone or in their homes when emissaries were sent), The EC had no choice but to go ahead of the elections as the guide lines are just “guide lines,” not mandatory and not when the other two candidates deliberately absent themselves.

When everything was ready in the morning, the Police now stepped in.  

Early in the morning at 5.30 A.M., the Police issued a statement that they will not support an election held in contravention of the Supreme Court verdict and the guide lines.  Who are they to interpret the Supreme Court order unless there is a specific formal complaint to them? 

At 6.30 A.M., the Police stationed themselves at the Election Office and declared that no document relating to the election can leave the Commission’s office.  The Election had to be cancelled.

The two candidates who did not sign the lists approached the Supreme Court again ( it looks that there are no other courts in Maldives!), to postpone the elections.  The Election Commission also approached the Supreme Court and they were told to “abide by its guide lines!” There was no mid night meeting to decide on this order!

A Dark Day for Democracy:

The Chairman of the Election Commission termed the cancellation as a “dark day for democracy.”  He accused the Police of undermining the independence of the Election Commission and said in frustration that whether or not the polling will be held is now in the hands of the Police!

The Supdt. Of Police said that they had to stop the election to avoid ‘instability’.  Towards the end of the day, the Police conceded that they consulted the President’s office and the Attorney General Azima Shukoor before physically obstructing the polling on that day.  The Attorney General Shukoor, it may be recalled intervened in the Supreme Court when the case was being heard, not for the government and the Election Commission but on behalf of the complainant Gasim Ibrahim!

International Opinion:

International opinion has been on expected lines.  The Commonwealth General Secretary said that the developments in Maldives were of deep concern.  The UK Foreign Secretary was “deeply dismayed.”  India is “deeply disappointed.”  It urged all parties to accept the voters’ register and show a spirit of understanding, cooperation and accommodation by supporting the efforts for holding the scheduled elections.

The international community should do something more besides expressing concern or disappointment.  The people whose fundamental right to vote in the elections has been thwarted by the machinations of a few with the help of the State apparatus will not  remain quiet for long.  They are bound to protest in a big way sooner or later.

What Next:

President Waheed has  called on the Election Commission to hold discussions with all candidates to find a way to hold the presidential elections on October 6.  He knows very well that it is not in EC’s hands!  He should not be unduly bothered also, as his continuance beyond November 11 has been assured by the observation of the Supreme Court that said “principle of continuity of legitimate government would override any repercussions faced by failure to adhere to constitutional dead lines!

It is doubtful whether in the normal circumstances the two candidates of PPM and the Jumhooree would ever sign the electoral lists.

Initially, the PPM on the 17th said that it would require 72 hours to approve the voters’ lists.  Later on the 19th it changed its position and said that the finger prints of ten percent of the re registered voters should be verified.  They know very well that it would take a minimum of twenty days to verify the finger prints.  The Jumhooree on the other hand was more modest and wanted only 5 percent of the finger prints to be verified!

It looks that both the candidates Yameen and Gasim Ibrahim would continue to obstruct the conduct of the elections in the near future.  It is not clear as to what they are afraid of?  Fear of losing or something more? Will the oil scandal be revived? Will any benefit to “Villa” be jeopardized?

It could be that in their calculations, elections could be postponed indefinitely till the court case against Nasheed is expedited as Nasheed is likely to be convicted with a pliant court!  

Reaction of MDP:

The reaction of the MDP has been very sober.  There have been protests on the 19th throughout the island but most of them except the one at Addu have been peaceful   Nasheed said “ we should be angry- not disheartened.” 

There is a call from MDP asking all citizens to commence protests to obtain the fundamental right to participate in the elections.  The party has also accused Supreme Court of its infringement on the independence of the Election Commission.

So far, Nasheed has been able to keep his followers under control.  But this cannot be taken for granted for an indefinite period!  Some solution has to be found and that too urgently.