The Maldives electoral body was Wednesday threatened with a lawsuit, as anger mounts over a dramatic drop in ballot boxes on resorts for local workers.
There are 27,837 Maldivians working in resorts, representing around 14 percent of the total workforce, according to the last census.
But, for September’s presidential poll, the Elections Commission announced that only seven resorts will have ballot boxes. This is an 87 percent cut compared to the 2013 election, when there were ballot centres in 55 resorts.
Maldivian workers on resorts where there is no ballot box are expected to travel to nearby islands to cast their votes on Sunday September 23.
Former attorney general Husnu Al Suood told the Maldives Independent he would be suing the EC over the low number of ballot centres because the move disenfranchises a section of the voting population.
“Even if they [resort workers] are not completely disenfranchised, this creates a lot of issues,” he said. “It puts a lot of obstacles in place for Maldivian resort workers in exercising their right to vote.
“My argument is for precedent. The commission has to follow the practices adopted by the commission in previous presidential elections. Which is that any resort that registers more than 100 voters will have a polling station.”
The EC has also said the seven resorts will only have ballot boxes if more than 250 people register to vote in those resorts.
An EC spokesman said the change was necessary after reviewing election proceedings from previous years, adding that resorts had asked for ballot boxes to be removed halfway through voting in 2013.
Resort ballot centres were cut down from 100 in 2013 after requests from management.
“Resorts are not far from inhabited islands. That’s why after re-registration is open, they can vote by registering at nearby islands,” EC member Ahmed Akram told Mihaaru, denying the decision violated people’s right to vote.
– Breach of secrecy –
Suood also plans to challenge an EC move that will force the elderly and people with disabilities to obtain help from polling station officials to cast their votes.
Previously the elderly and people with disabilities were able to choose their helper on polling day.
Suood claimed this decision breached voting secrecy.
“For one thing this violates the secrecy of the vote, because polling officials will know how several people voted and that is a problem because these people are being denied their right to choose who will help them. They are not going to be allowed to choose someone they trust to help them tick the ballot,” Suood said.
With over 263,000 Maldivians eligible to vote the EC will set up 446 ballot boxes, with five ballot boxes set up in four countries.
The EC confirmed to the Maldives Independent that plans to set up a voting centre in Singapore had been scrapped.
“With reference to previous voter registration patterns, we have decided not to have a ballot centre in Singapore,” Akram said Wednesday.
EC teams are currently in three atolls to finalise preparations for the election. The teams will also hold voter education awareness sessions in the islands, Akram said.
Photo: The Sun Siyam Ira Fushi