The Elections Commission has threatened to seek defamation action against “slanderous” allegations of fraud and vote rigging made at nightly protests by the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives.
The five-member commission decided at a meeting Sunday to sue for defamation and to file complaints with the broadcasting regulator over live coverage of the protests, EC chief Ahmed Shareef told the media.
During the protests, which has drawn about 50 people on most nights, the commissioners are accused of accepting bribes to rig the September 23 election.
The protesters demand a fresh election and call for Shareef’s arrest.
The EC also decided to clarify with the PPM whether it was organising the protests outside the party headquarters in Malé. If so, the PPM would be warned of punitive action if it continues to breach the freedom of assembly law.
The law was revised by the PPM-majority parliament to ban street protests in the capital. Gatherings were restricted to areas designated by the home ministry, which picked the carnival area in Malé’s eastern waterfront.
Sunday’s EC meeting was held via video conference with only Shareef in Malé and the other four members joining from Sri Lanka. They left the country after facing constant threats, Shareef previously told the Maldives Independent.
PPM spokesman Ali Arif said EC members leaving the country lends credence to the party’s claims.
“It’s now becoming clear and it is being proven that there are issues with the election. We see EC members leaving one by one,” the lawmaker told the Maldives Independent earlier on Sunday.
But Arif was unable to explain how the PPM suspects the election was rigged.
“I cannot say what the specific issues are yet, we are looking into it. There are suspicions and allegations. When we have substantial evidence we will take it to court and the media, too.”
Last week, MP Ahmed Nihan told protestors that “a massive court case” is being prepared based on numerous complaints.
The PPM launched its nightly protests last Monday over a leaked audio of a phone call between Shareef and an unknown associate, which has been touted as evidence of wrongdoing and undue influence.
Shareef said the audio was doctored from multiple phone conversations and “edited, dubbed, and reordered to bring out a certain meaning.”
The EC maintains there were no complaints or irregularities that could affect the outcome of the election, which the joint opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih won decisively with a record 38,000-vote margin.
But President Abdulla Yameen claimed at the first PPM protest that he should have received more than 96,000 votes (42 percent).
On Saturday night, Shareef told Sangu TV that the other EC members have not fled the country. One was seeking medical treatment while another was attending weekend classes, both of whom would return soon.
Some 94 cases filed with the national complaints bureau after voting day have now been addressed, he said, 88 of which were answered previously while 106 answers have now been dispatched.
“I don’t see the public having doubts about the election and posing us questions or complaints.. When some people gather a small group of people in the street and talk about it, it’s not the public having questions, and that’s not even the way to go about it.”