The Maldives was in turmoil on the eve of a presidential election, after police on Saturday shut down and searched the campaign office of the opposition candidate.
Police said there were reports of illegal activity, but the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party countered there was no warrant and that officers had entered the building unlawfully.
A copy of a warrant was later circulating on social media. It said police were investigating “acts of bribery” to influence the election and gave Maldives Police Service 14 hours to search the office, well into polling day.
It was issued at 8:45pm – more than five hours after police arrived at the building. The search finished shortly before midnight but a Maldives Independent reporter at the scene said officers did not bring anything out.
MDP lawyer Hisaan Hussain told media that police found nothing. She also said the warrant did not give permission for multiple entry and that police had said the search was complete.
Veteran MDP lawmaker and presidential hopeful Ibrahim Mohamed Solih was not in his campaign office during this period. Uniformed officers could be seen at the ground floor entrance to the building and also on the fifth floor, where his office is located.
Police earlier this month accused him of lying about the force – his team swiftly denied the allegations – and said he was being investigated over remarks made during a campaign trip.
President Abdulla Yameen wants a second term and the roll-call of high-profile people he has imprisoned or chased into exile since taking office include two former presidents (one of whom is also his ageing and poorly half-brother), two Supreme Court justices, two vice presidents, two defence ministers, leaders of opposition parties, lawmakers (one of whom is his nephew) and the country’s chief prosecutor.
His government has also presided over human rights abuses, a crackdown on the opposition and tightened its grip on the media through an anti-defamation law.
This hardline stance has triggered sanctions from the European Union, threats of sanctions from the US and widespread concern that the election will not be free and fair.
UK ambassador to the Maldives, James Dauris, expressed his concern at the 11th hour events in Malé.
“In view of events in
#Maldives today it’s easy to understand why so many people are concerned about what might happen on Election Day. It would be a sad day for Maldivians and #democracy if tomorrow’s vote were to be delayed. I share the hope it will go ahead, be free and fair,” he tweeted.
Raid on opposition headquarters on the eve of the election further calls into question the government’s commitment to a free and fair election. The Maldivian people deserve a peaceful election free from manipulation and interference. #Maldives
— Robert Hilton (@HiltyBob) September 22, 2018
There are around 263,000 eligible voters. Polls close at 4pm.