Members of the Maldivian Democratic Party’s national council have urged the main opposition party to boycott future elections if the Elections Commission introduces electronic voting for the first time in the Maldives.
At a meeting of the council Tuesday night, members raised fears of fraud and vote-rigging and called on the party’s leadership not to participate in polls that are not guaranteed to be free and fair.
The EC had informed the party earlier this month that it will “do what is necessary to introduce electronic voting.” However, commission members told visiting European Union diplomats yesterday that e-voting would not be introduced unless the system has public support.
Home Minister Umar Naseer also told the EU heads of missions that the government would only proceed with the e-voting plans with the consent of the public.
“The minister also said that the system is used in South Korea and that if any foreign party wished to take a look at the system it will be arranged upon request to the Elections Commission,” the home ministry said in a statement.
The EC has previously said e-voting machines would be imported this month and that the system would reduce polling costs and speed up vote counting. But the MDP has maintained that e-voting is unnecessary “in a country with a small voting population where results are announced within a few hours.”
Members who spoke at last night’s council meeting also contended that the EC has been biased and politicised since the pro-government majority in the parliament stacked the independent institution with loyalists of President Abdulla Yameen.
The MDP has been at loggerheads with the reconstituted commission since it ordered the party in July last year to re-register nearly half of its 46,608 members.
Several council members also observed that public confidence in the EC had plummeted between 2013 and 2015.
A survey by Transparency Maldives showed that only 19 percent of people had a “great deal of confidence” in the commission compared to 31 percent in 2013.
Former Human Resource Minister Hassan Latheef said: “We must make a decision on this matter after giving it much thought, in consideration of the bitter experience we have had in past elections, we must not get entrapped.”
Ibrahim Amir, deputy chair of the party’s economic committee, said the public no longer has confidence in any independent institution of the state since their reconstitution in the past two years.
MP Mohamed Falah urged the council to explore all avenues, including staging protests, in order to stop the implementation of the e-voting system.
Ali Shiyam, MDP’s deputy chairperson, said the party will make a decision on boycotting future elections, whilst Malé City Deputy Mayor Shifa Mohamed described the EC’s plans as “preparations for a massive theft.”
Several members accused the EC of plotting to orchestrate a victory for the MDP in the upcoming local council elections in January 2017 in a “devious” bid to gain the party’s support for e-voting, after which it would be used to rig the presidential and parliamentary elections in favour of the ruling party.
Meanwhile, EC member Ahmed Akram previously told The Maldives Independent that plans for e-voting had been in the pipeline since 2008. “We are only building on that foundation.”
But former Elections Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek had also criticised the plans to introduce e-voting, urging EC 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.