The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has defended the legitimacy of its May 30 presidential primary after scepticism over the high turnout.
Despite police snatching ballot boxes to execute a court warrant, nearly 44,000 members voted for exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed to be their candidate in this year’s presidential elections, the MDP claimed.
Responding to allegations of fraud and vote rigging, MDP chairman Hassan Latheef told the press that police officers only managed to confiscate ballot boxes when they were first deployed shortly after voting began on Wednesday afternoon.
But polling stations across the country were prepared for later raids, Latheef said, and the boxes seized did not contain any ballot papers.
He stressed that preliminary results were announced at polling stations after votes were counted openly. Some 218 polling stations in the Maldives and six stations overseas were set up for the primary.
Latheef also addressed questions over the party’s registered membership, which many claimed on social media was below 30,000 according to Elections Commission figures.
The party’s internal registry has 52,373 members, he said, despite the EC removing nearly half of its members from the official roll.
The turnout in Malé and Addu City was lower than expected, Latheef conceded, blaming police obstruction, which also had the effect of galvanising support on other strongholds.
He also suggested that police officers went through the motions without making a genuine attempt to block voting.
Some 20 members were arrested after clashes with police, MDP said.
On the southern island of Laamu Gan, three MDP members were arrested with court warrants Thursday night on charges of assault and making death threats.
The Gan magistrate court remanded them to police custody for 10 days.
Wednesday’s civil court order to stop the voting was issued after the Elections Commission declared the referendum unlawful over Nasheed’s ineligibility to run for office with a 13-year prison sentence.
But the MDP disputed the validity of the court order due to the misspelling of the party’s name. It accused police of contravening the criminal procedures code as the court order did not authorise entering or confiscating private property.
The EC, which threatened to dissolve the MDP ahead of the primary, has since warned that the party will face action for going ahead with the internal polls.
Media outlets were previously warned against “promoting” convicted opposition leaders.