Commissioners fear for safety as ruling party seeks election annulment
Elections Commission members are spending nights at undisclosed locations due to threats after the ruling party alleged fraud and vote rigging in the September 23 presidential election. EC chief Ahmed Shareef told the Maldives Independent that the commission’s five members, their families and senior staff have been facing constant threats. “We’ve been getting anonymous calls on Viber threatening us, we’ve been screenshotting and saving everything,” Shareef said on Thursday. “Our member Ali Nashath left the country because he couldn’t cope. Last night a group of men went to his house late at night and kept knocking on his door, scaring his wife and children, but luckily they didn’t open the door. It’s very emotional, fearful, and we never know what’s going to happen.” The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives launched nightly protests over a leaked audio of a phone call between Shareef and an unknown associate, which has been touted as evidence of wrongdoing and undue influence.
Shareef said the audio was doctored from multiple phone conversations and “edited, dubbed, and reordered to bring out a certain meaning.” At Thursday night’s protest, PPM leadership figures assured supporters gathered outside the party’s office in the capital that “success” was near. After studying election-related complaints submitted by supporters, the PPM is preparing “a massive court case,” MP Ahmed Nihan was quoted as saying, confirming rumours that the party would seek a Supreme Court ruling to annul the election. A week after conceding defeat, President Abdulla Yameen joined the first demonstration Monday night and urged supporters to continue protesting until the EC addresses concerns, claiming he would have received more than 96,000 votes (42 percent). But the EC dismissed the “unsubstantiated allegations” and stressed there were no official complaints that could affect the outcome. Voting and ballot counting took place “in the presence of a record number of representatives of candidates, local and international observers and monitors,” the EC said.
– Chemicals and rings –
Shareef reiterated the EC stance on Thursday, dismissing some of the more outlandish claims of vote rigging. “We’re ready for ballot papers to be examined in front of international experts to see if these magical chemicals they claim we use are there, and if votes magically flew to wrong candidates,” he said. “Legally they can check with a court order, but instead of doing that peacefully they are creating unrest.” Shareef said he feared arrest but did not plan to leave the country. “I want to face this. I know fabricated evidence can be used to arrest me but my lawyers can prove in court that it is baseless,” he said. “I’ve not thought about leaving. People have advised me to leave until the 14 days [for submitting election-related complaints] are over. The situation could turn any minute but I will face it bravely.” Yameen replaced the police chief before the PPM protests began. Both the police and military previously pledged to uphold the will of the people.
In a statement Wednesday, the PPM demanded a “transparent investigation and detailed public response” from Shareef about the leaked audio. It is unclear what was being discussed in the calls. Shareef could be heard telling the other man not to worry and to deny any allegations, assuring he would not face a police probe. Shareef must also answer allegations of collusion, the PPM said, “which includes rumours of a ‘pen hidden inside a ring’ as well as a bank transaction record of a deposit into his personal accounts that run into millions of Rufiyaa.” The election was the “most disorganised” in recent history and there were “widespread anger over issues related to re-registration, lack of officials, massive queues at ballot stations and thousands of elections complaints involving serious violations of electoral regulations.” Shareef denied the graft allegations. Other allegations included “hurried manipulation of vote counting equipment, unexplained removal of key members of the [EC] staff and failure to gather paperwork from polling station officials, remote access of the EC mainframe in the days leading up to and in the immediate aftermath of polling day.” The five-member commission – which the opposition previously contended were stacked with Yameen loyalists – must address the allegations in order to restore public trust ahead of the 2019 parliamentary elections, the PPM said.