The Supreme Court on Sunday rejected President Abdulla Yameen’s petition to annul the September 23 election.
In a unanimous ruling by the full bench, the court also denied the president’s request to oversee a police or military probe into alleged vote-rigging and electoral fraud.
“The court rules that there is no legal or constitutional basis to question the legality of the election based on the evidence submitted,” declared Chief Justice Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi.
A crowd of opposition supporters erupted in celebration when reporters emerged from the courthouse with news of the anxiously awaited judgment.
There were cheers and chants for the president’s arrest.
Yameen challenged his election defeat despite conceding hours after provisional results showed he lost by a record margin of 38,653 votes.
According to his petition, a pen with disappearing ink was left at the voting booth and a chemical was applied to make the checkmark disappear in the square next to Yameen’s name.
Elections officials then used a ring with a secret pen to discreetly mark blank ballot papers. This was done while they stacked and counted ballots in front of observers and monitors.
The testimony of three unidentified witnesses was the only evidence submitted to back up the claims.
Last week, the court ruled there was no reason to hear secret testimony.
– No evidence –
In its judgment, the Supreme Court said the president’s lawyers failed to prove any electoral fraud despite claiming mass electoral fraud.
The burden of proof was on the claimant, the chief justice noted, stressing the lack of evidence to prove the alleged vote rigging methods would have affected the outcome while there was a 38,000-vote margin.
There was no evidence of disappearing ink, vanishing checkmarks or “pen rings.”
The Elections Commission’s decision to award the contract to print ballot papers without bidding – which was done with the finance ministry’s permission – was insufficient to prove wrongdoing, the court ruled.
There was no legal barrier to seek investigation of corruption or other irregularities, it added.
The chief justice also noted there was no legal barrier for the president to petition the High Court, which has the jurisdiction to hear election-related complaints as mandated by the election law.
But the president’s challenge was filed as a “constitutional case” as the apex court has the authority to determine if an order by a state institution or any act or decision by an official contravened the constitution.
Citing the election law – which states only the Elections Commission has the discretion to refer suspected criminal offences to the High Court through the Prosecutor General – the court ruled there was no legal basis to order an investigation by the police or military.
In an address to the nation last Wednesday, the president appeared to expect an unfavourable ruling when the court refused to call the witnesses, signalling acceptance of his election loss.
It was widely seen as a second concession speech as Yameen repeatedly stated he was serving his final days in office. Hours later, the joint opposition asked police to prevent the president from fleeing to escape prosecution for corruption.
Speaking to reporters outside the court, the Maldivian Democratic Party chairman reiterated calls for the police to impose a travel ban on the president.
Unlike previous hearings, there were only a few pro-government supporters outside the courthouse.
The ruling party has been staging nightly protests against the Elections Commission since October 1. The five-member commission’s president, Ahmed Shareef, is accused of accepting bribes, bringing the pen rings and instructing officials to tamper with ballots.
The EC is seeking defamation action over the “unsubstantiated allegations.”
EC members Amjad Musthafa and Ismail Habeeb. The commission was represented by former deputy prosecutor general Hussain Shameem.
We appreciate the work of EC legal team, well done! Thnx a lot to all staff of EC n to all who stood with the people’s decision
— Ahmed Shareef (@ShareefRangondi) October 21, 2018
Congratulations EC Legal Team! We are overwhelmed by the hardwork you have contributed to EC and the Nation. 🇲🇻 pic.twitter.com/2efxyjGVPU
— Elections Commission (@ElectionsMv) October 21, 2018
— Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (@maumoonagayoom) October 21, 2018
“We are pleased that the Court ruled unanimously to uphold the will of the people. The case was based on conjecture & conspiracy theory. There’s zero evidence that the election was fixed. PrezYameen should do the honourable thing: accept defeat& ensure a smooth transfer of power”
— Mariya Didi 🎈 (@MariyaDidi) October 21, 2018
Congratulations yet again Maldives. It’s the non-stop calling out on corruption, the fearless standing up against human rights abuses,the refusal to bow down to injustice,the perseverance against all odds, and finally, it’s those 6 hours you stood to cast your vote that did it.❤️
— Eva Abdulla 🎈❓ (@evattey) October 21, 2018
— #JazeeraRaajje (@Simwarr) October 21, 2018
— Dr. Abdulla Khaleel 🌐 (@abkhaleel) October 21, 2018
Photo of celebration outside Supreme Court from Raajje.mv