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Elections Commission condemned over veiled threat to annul MDP primary

With exiled former president Nasheed’s campaign for the May 30 primary in full swing, the EC announced guidelines for conducting primaries and implicitly rejected the candidacies of convicted opposition leaders. 



The joint opposition on Monday condemned the Elections Commission’s indirect threat to stop or annul the Maldivian Democratic Party’s presidential primary.

With exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed’s campaign for the May 30 primary in full swing, the EC announced guidelines for conducting primaries and implicitly rejected the candidacies of convicted opposition leaders.

The EC has also asked MDP to provide details of its primary candidates.

Calling the five-member commission “hopelessly politicised” and “little more than a mouthpiece for President [Abdulla] Yameen,” the opposition alliance noted that only the full bench of the Supreme Court has the constitutional authority to resolve disputes concerning the eligibility of presidential candidates.

The full bench quashed the convictions of jailed politicians including Nasheed in a landmark ruling on February 1.

However, “President Yameen responded by sending in the military, who abducted the Chief Justice and another Supreme Court justice,” the opposition contended in a statement Monday.

“The two judges remain in detention, while three remaining justices sit on the bench, under the implicit threat of arrest if they rule against the president’s wishes,” it added, referring to the disputed decision by the reduced bench to rescind the February 1 order for the release and retrial of political prisoners.

While Nasheed is the sole contender in the MDP primary, the Jumhooree Party has announced that its candidate will be exiled leader Gasim Ibrahim.

Yameen narrowly won the 2013 polls in a run-off against Nasheed after forming a short-lived coalition with Gasim.

Nasheed remains barred from contesting in September’s presidential election due to a 13-year prison sentence and Gasim is ineligible both due to a bribery conviction and constitutional age limits.

The 65-year cap also precludes the potential candidacy of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who joined forces with the opposition last year. The former strongman is standing trial on terrorism charges over an alleged plot to oust Yameen.

The government remains intransigent in the face of calls for inclusive elections. In April, it rejected the UN Human Rights Committee’s ruling to restore Nasheed’s right to run for office.

In its announcement, the EC said primaries must take place between May 21 and July 1 and that it must be informed of the candidates and date three days in advance. Candidates who lose in a presidential primary cannot contest as an independent, it noted, citing the third amendment brought to the Political Parties Act in 2016.

The deadline for filing candidacy papers for the presidential election falls in July.

The EC has a legal responsibility to ensure that primaries comply with electoral laws and regulations, it said.

MDP deputy chairman Ali Niyaz told the Maldives Independent that the main opposition party’s primary will “definitely go ahead” as planned next week.

In a joint opposition press briefing Monday evening, MP Mohamed Ameeth told reporters that the EC has no legal authority to meddle with internal matters and dictate terms on conducting primaries.

He criticised the EC’s recent instruction to political parties to amend provisions in their governing statutes that conflict with the 2013 political party law.

“Political parties formed in the Maldives are not branches of the Elections Commission or institutions that must function as they say,” Ameeth said, calling on the oversight body to allow parties to operate freely and autonomously.

The opposition maintains that the EC, now led by a loyalist of President Yameen, has been “a de-facto rubber stamp for President Yameen in a number of politically motivated, illegal and unconstitutional actions,” including the contentious disqualification of 12 former ruling party lawmakers.