The Maldives police and military must “back the will of the people” if there are attempts to subvert or manipulate the election results, former president Mohamed Nasheed said Friday.
He told a news conference he was talking to the top brass in the Maldives National Defence Force and believed there would be a split in the ranks if President Abdulla Yameen tried to maintain his rule illegally.
Yameen is seeking a second term in office. His government is accused of human rights abuses, a crackdown on the opposition and restrictions on free speech. The European Union has threatened sanctions and the US could follow suit.
Police and military presence has increased in the capital ahead of the vote. A Maldives Independent reporter on Friday saw trucks full of police in riot gear, with other security vehicles patrolling the streets.
Nasheed, who was convicted on controversial terror charges, lives in exile. He is barred from contesting the presidency.
“I am in conversation with our own military,” he told reporters in Colombo. “I am in conversation with the top brass as well. If President Yameen requests to maintain his power illegally, I believe the military will split.
“I also understand that some gangs have been issued police uniforms.”
The Maldives Police Service issued a statement condemning his “false statements,” saying the opposition leader was trying to tarnish the integrity of officers.
Police spokesman Ahmed Shifan said Nasheed’s comments were aimed at encouraging and instigating the “dangerous acts” the MPS had previously warned of.
“People have become more angry at the police, using angry words and carrying out angry acts, and some have encouraged this,” he told reporters in Male.
But former police commissioner Ahmed Areef called on officers not to obey any unlawful orders for fear of losing their jobs.
He was sacked earlier this year after attempting to enforce a landmark Supreme Court order to release high-profile prisoners, including Nasheed and jailed former vice president Ahmed Adeeb.
– ‘No imagination’ –
Nasheed has previously asked for military intervention in the Maldives – from India. But, in a significant departure from this stance, he said the opposition hoped to overcome the political turmoil through their own efforts.
“Do you know why I am not asking any country to be physically involved in the Maldives?” asked Nasheed, without explicitly mentioning the country’s traditional ally and regional neighbour. “Because no country has the imagination to do it. Perhaps they don’t have the capacity to do that. But our problems remain.”
The outcome of the presidential election would not affect the opposition’s capacity or willingness to contest the parliamentary elections which are usually scheduled for six months afterwards.
“The way you build a democracy is not by running away from it,” said Nasheed. “It is by going at it every day and not giving it up. And we will do that.”
He urged the country’s allies in the international community not to recognise Yameen’s victory in the elections, and to sever trade and diplomatic ties with the Maldives in such an event.
Nasheed speculated that the Elections Commission could cite procedural matters and obstruct opposition observers from seeing the ballot papers during the final count, ensuring the elections “stayed rigged.”
But the EC had earlier assured that each ballot paper would be shown to those present for the vote count and that observers would have a right to ask questions or, in case of a disagreement, appeal to the High Court.
He also expressed concern about foreign journalists and observers not having a visa to enter the Maldives – despite having EC accreditation – and said some of those with observer status had a “deeply questionable commitment to democracy.”
The months leading up to the September 23 election have seen the EC accused of voter-list manipulation, insufficient ballot boxes for expats and resort workers, and giving the ruling party access to classified information.
EC chief Ahmed Shareef is viewed as a Yameen loyalist, although he insists his history with the incumbent has not impeded his willingness or ability to conduct free and fair elections.