Maldives president calls for protests over alleged vote rigging
A week after conceding defeat, President Abdulla Yameen has questioned the election results and urged supporters to protest nationwide until the Elections Commission addresses concerns over alleged vote rigging.
The president joined a protest staged by the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives in the capital Monday night. Citing a leaked audio of a conversation between EC chief Ahmed Shareef and an unknown associate, he said it shows there was undue influence over the independent electoral body.
Insinuating bribery, Yameen claimed he would have received much more than 96,000 votes (42 percent).
“I really believe I would get more votes than this. We have to continue our work until the EC gives a definite answer,” he was quoted as saying by the media.
“It’s not at all that I don’t accept the results. [But] I am one person. My legal team is working. And we’re seeing the public sentiment here. So I can go forward in line with the sentiments of common members.”
A PPM team will meet the EC about the audio, Yameen added, indicating a possible legal challenge.
On Monday evening, senior PPM members shared Shareef’s leaked audio on social media and urged supporters to join the protest dubbed Olhuvaali Vote (Rigged Vote) at 9pm.
Amid heavy rain, about 50 people gathered with raincoats and umbrellas outside the party office in the capital’s outer ring road.
At two press briefings earlier in the day, PPM lawmakers called on the electoral body to address concerns and demanded answers.
But neither the president nor the lawmakers made any specific allegations about electoral fraud or vote rigging.
The president reportedly suggested “rings” were used.
Shareef has meanwhile denounced the audio as doctored. Multiple phone conversations were recorded without his knowledge, “edited, dubbed, and reordered to bring out a certain meaning,” he said in a statement Monday night.
Shareef, a loyalist of the president who was mistrusted by the opposition prior to the polls, added that he was considering filing a complaint with the police and assured cooperation with a police probe.
It is unclear what was being discussed in the phone calls. Shareef could be heard telling the other man who referred to him as “sir” not to be worried and to deny any allegations. The president “might sacrifice anyone,” he said, but the context was uncertain.
– ‘Planned and systematic’ –
According to the official results announced Saturday, joint opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih beat the incumbent with a record 38,000-vote margin. There were no irregularities or complaints that could affect the outcome, Shareef told the press.
But the PPM claimed there were issues that worried people or raised questions, the EC chief said.
PPM MP Ahmed Nihan alleged “planned and systematic attempts” to change electoral standards or voting procedures. But Shareef said no such complaint was filed.
Ballots were counted in front of candidate representatives, observers and media monitors and results were announced at polling stations. The voter lists used at polling stations were signed by both candidates.
The week after the September 23 polls was tense amid rumours of Shareef’s impending arrest on bribery charges or the ruling party seeking a court ruling to annul the election. But the security forces pledged to uphold the will of the people.
Earlier on Monday, Yameen replaced the police chief with former assistant commissioner Hamdhoon Rasheed.
In his statement, Shareef expressed regret over the allegations in the absence of any evidence to prove wrongdoing. Citing his previous membership of the PPM and “sacrifices” for the party, he condemned efforts to bring him into disrepute among the PPM leadership and rank and file.
Some protesters called for Shareef’s arrest.
According to media reports, a group of about 25 young men were brought over from Hulhumalé in a bus operated by the state-owned Housing Development Corporation.
PPM MP Yameen Rasheed and the president’s spokesman Ibrahim Muaz Ali were spotted in the crowd. Other lawmakers soon joined.
Riot police officers arrived later and pushed back protesters to the pavement.
The protest will resume outside the PPM office on Tuesday night, it was announced.
The constitution guarantees the right to protest without prior permission. But the ruling party amended the 2013 Freedom of Assembly Act to require written permission from the police to gather in areas other than the carnival grounds in Malé’s eastern waterfront.