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MDP cries foul as police tear up campaign posters

MDP representatives walked out of Tuesday’s meeting of the national election advisory committee.

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The Maldivian Democratic Party boycotted Tuesday’s meeting of the Elections Commission’s national advisory committee in protest against police obstruction of campaign activities.

A jogging event was blocked Friday and police officers were deployed across the capital over the past two days to stop campaign workers from putting up posters.

Despite failing to produce a court warrant, police officers claimed that pasting posters on private property was illegal and arrested former MP Ibrahim Rasheed ‘Bonde’ and activist Ahmed Maimoon. Both were briefly detained and released Tuesday evening.

Earlier in the day, MDP representatives met with EC members after walking out of the advisory committee meeting. The commissioners assured that they would take up the issue with police, MDP deputy chairman Ali Niyaz told the press.

As promised, EC president Adam Shareef and spokesman Ahmed Akram later met with senior police officers “to discuss allowing equal opportunity for political parties to carry out political activities”.

However, police officers were tearing off posters at different locations in Malé about two hours later.

At a press briefing Wednesday morning, EC president Shareef said all parties should have equal opportunity to conduct political activities “within the bounds of the legal framework.”

Police informed the EC that it blocked the poster event to prevent traffic congestion, Shareef said.

He denied asking police to crack down on MDP campaign events.

With the presidential election less than three months away, political space for the opposition remains severely restricted. Riot police routinely take down banners and confiscate food trays and tables from MDP tea parties.

Street protests have been effectively banned in Malé since late 2016.

More recently, police officers snatched ballot boxes and arrested party officials to stop the MDP’s presidential primary. At least 26 island and atoll councillors have been suspended for helping with the nationwide polls.

The EC threatened to dissolve the main opposition party over the primary.

But the MDP is continuing its ‘Jazeera Raees’ campaign despite the EC’s stance that its candidate, former president Mohamed Nasheed, is ineligible to run for office with a 13-year prison sentence.

In March, police conducted operations to remove MDP flags that were raised higher than the national flag on several islands, a violation of new flag rules enacted by the home ministry last year.

Photos and videos of a policeman climbing a 50-foot flagpole on Manadhoo island went viral on social networks.

A few days later, police officers were ridiculed for seeking the help of an expatriate to climb a 115-feet tall banyan tree and take down an MDP flag on the island of Bileiyfahi.

Banners and posters were also removed on the northern island under restrictions imposed on political activities.

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