The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has accused the elections commission of deliberately impeding efforts to observe and monitor the upcoming local council elections.
The commission gave three working days to register representatives for nearly 500 opposition candidates and refused to accredit several observers, the MDP said in a statement Friday night.
“We believe the scaling back of observers and impeding the registration process is a deliberate strategy to make it harder to detect government’s efforts to intimidate voters and rigging at the ballot box,” the party said.
According to the MDP, some candidate representatives were told they need to first participate in a workshop whilst the elections commission’s focal points on some islands refused to register representatives without offering a valid reason.
The commission required observers to register online, which the MDP said was “impractical” and “not user-friendly given that this is the first time the process is conducted in an online format.”
Several observers were unable to complete the registration process because the commission’s server was busy ahead of the deadline last Wednesday, the party said.
In response to complaints, the commission informed the party that application forms can be filed at its office. But the commission’s letter was sent ahead of the weekend, the MDP said.
The elections commission, however, denies refusing to register the MDP’s observers and candidate representatives.
Ahmed Akram, an elections commissioner, told Mihaaru that parties were informed of alternate arrangements last week when the problem with the server was brought to its attention.
The local council election was scheduled to take place on January 14, but the civil court on December 1 ordered the commission to postpone the vote by two months.
The commission set the December 14 deadline for both observers and voter registration despite the civil court order, which it has challenged at the high court. The commission insists that the polls will take place as scheduled on January 14.
The decentralisation law requires new councils to be elected 30 days before the end of their three-year term in February. But the civil court ruling said that councillors whose terms were set to expire on February 26, will remain until their successors are elected.
The MDP meanwhile noted that its representative at the commission’s advisory board was arrested earlier this month “for calling for free and fair elections.”
Ali Niyaz, MDP deputy chairperson, was arrested from a protest in Malé against the court-ordered postponement of the polls. He was released Friday night after seven days under house arrest.
The MDP went on to express concern with the government’s decision to quit the Commonwealth, which sent delegations to observe elections in the Maldives.
“Given the government’s underhand tactics using the courts and the Elections Commission to jeopardise the electoral process thus far, we are deeply concerned that the Government’s electoral manipulation will go unchecked,” the party said.
“We urge the international community to impress upon the elections commission of the Maldives, and to the government of the Maldives, the unqualified necessity for allowing full access to both international and local observers, for the local council elections to have any credibility with the Maldivian people.”
Earlier this month, the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives also criticised the elections commission for closing the period to submit candidacy papers.
The PPM did not nominate any candidates when the extended deadline expired on December 1.