Elections chief embarks on media charm offensive

Elections chief embarks on media charm offensive
March 20 17:21 2018

Foreign journalists might be allowed in to the Maldives to cover the presidential polls, the elections chief said Tuesday, even as authorities crack down on local media amid a state of emergency.

The newly appointed commissioner, Ahmed Adam Shareef, led a casual but on-the-record discussion at a restaurant in Malé to bond with Maldivian journalists.

It was his second media appearance since his appointment as EC chief earlier this month.

Shareef and other EC members took questions about the polls, which are scheduled to take place in early September.

He talked about processes for monitoring the election, plans for electronic voting and even the contentious “disqualification” of 12 MPs.

“We will provide monitoring accreditation, even to foreign journalists,” said Shareef. “They can take that to immigration or to get visas.” He added it was something the commission would have to discuss further.

Foreign journalists have been mostly unwelcome in the Maldives for more than two years, ever since an award-winning Al Jazeera documentary revealed massive corruption involving the government.

Most recently two AFP journalists were deported during the state of emergency by the Immigration Department, which cited visa violations.

But some foreign media have been allowed in, such as the Indian journalists who were addressed by eight ministers and a Chinese team who talked about “mild unrest” in the capital.

Shareef promised to work closely with media outlets to disclose information about the election, pledging an open and friendly “partnership.”

The commission will open applications for election monitoring before May, he said.

Accreditation guidelines will be stricter and only registered journalists at news outlets will be able to get accreditation. Unregistered volunteers will not be able to register on behalf of news outlets.

Meanwhile, e-voting mechanisms will not be introduced for this year’s polls, Shareef said, as laws needed to be changed before it could be done.

Even without electronic voting, the commission is still considering the possibilities of counting votes via an electronic system but it seems unlikely, Shareef said.

“We do not plan to make too many changes to procedures. It will decrease people’s trust in the election,” he added.

Shareef has insisted he can be non-partisan, despite a political background as a loyalist of President Abdulla Yameen.