The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has urged the Elections Commission to consult with political parties over its plans to introduce electronic voting in the upcoming local council elections.
The party said the EC is yet to formally inform political parties over its plans, and raised concern over the sudden change “in a country with a small voting population where results are announced within a few hours.”
Local council elections are scheduled for January 14, 2017.
In a statement issued on Monday, the MDP said the EC’s response to a May 2 letter requesting further information had read: “This commission is working on the tasks required to develop our services with the use of modern facilities in a more developed world. Therefore, we will do what is necessary to introduce electronic voting.”
MDP Secretary General Anas Abdul Sattar labeled the commission’s response “vague,” saying the party wants to know if the commission has formally decided to launch e-voting.
The MDP also wants more information on how the system would work, and the country from which e-voting machines would be sourced from, he said.
The party said it sent a second letter on May 9, informing the commission e-voting is “unacceptable,” if introduced without consultation with the country’s largest political party. It also raised questions over the commission’s independence, claiming members were subject to political influence.
The EC has previously said e-voting machines would be imported this month and that the machines would reduce polling costs and speed-up the counting of votes.
Ahmed Akram, an EC member, told The Maldives Independent today that plans for e-voting had been in the pipeline since 2008. “We are only building on that foundation.”
He claimed the commission had informed political parties of e-voting plans during a meeting held on the administration of the local council elections last month. The MDP’s only concern at the time was the lack of public awareness on the issue, he said.
The commission has not yet decided which country it would buy machines from, he said, adding that he would be speaking to experts at a conference at the Dominican Republic that he is planning to attend this week.
Anas, however, said the commission had spoken “in broad strokes” on the issue only in response to a question posed by the MDP.
“These discussions must be initiated by the commission, and must be detailed. We do not have to seek out such information, especially when the commission is planning to overhaul the age-old system of counting votes in the Maldives,” he said.
Meanwhile, former Elections Commissioner, Fuwad Thowfeek, has criticised the move, urging commission members to take urgent measures to improve public confidence and trust in electoral systems before implementing e-voting.
“Electronic voting should not be introduced unless the public has 100 percent faith in the elections commission. The people must have confidence the commission will not misuse its powers, and people have to believe that the members of EC will carry out their duties independently,” Fuwad said in a recent interview with 97Minivan.
According to a survey by Transparency Maldives, public confidence in the EC had plunged between 2013 and 2015. Only 19 percent of people had a “great deal of confidence” in the commission, as opposed to 31 percent in 2013.
The new commission, appointed by the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives-dominated parliament, has been criticised as biased, especially in the wake of an order requiring political party members to re-register with fingerprinted forms.
The order does not apply to PPM as it was formed in 2011, after regulations requiring fingerprinted membership forms came into force. The MDP, which was registered in 2005, could lose nearly half of its 48,000 members if the civil court upholds the EC’s order in an ongoing lawsuit.