The Maldives election body on Saturday insisted it would count votes according to the law once ballots had closed in the presidential election.
At a tetchy press briefing on the eve of the vote, the Elections Commission chief said there were no changes to the process and reprimanded journalists for asking questions around “baseless rumours” before acknowledging there had been public concern about the count.
“I will tell you very briefly, we will do everything according to the law,” Ahmed Shareef told reporters, saying the EC had issued a statement on the matter.
Local media said the statement was only available in English, with no Dhivehi translation, and asked the EC to share the process for vote counting.
But Shareef declined to do so at the news conference and asked reporters to contact the commission spokesman for details.
“We don’t want to do that. But there is one point I would like to raise. The step-by-step of how to count and announce results is written in a law.
“The Elections Commission will follow the law to the letter. The Elections Commission will not do anything against the law.”
When the Maldives Independent pressed why some election officials were reporting the counting process was different this time, Shareef conceded the EC had tried to adopt a change that was then withdrawn due to public pressure.
“There was a small confusion about this,” he said. “But we have cleared that confusion. Because earlier we decided the results on the result sheet would be printed instead of being handwritten. This is not an issue that is defined in the act. But because some people were looking at this change suspiciously, we let it go.”
The EC statement says counting will begin after the last votes are cast at 4pm. Voting begins at 8am.
The Saturday press briefing was attended by just five foreign journalists, as Maldives Immigration insisted it had granted visas to international media and observers.
Observers and monitors said they had EC accreditation but had not been issued visas so could not enter the Maldives.
Immigration indicated the blame lay with sponsors, but some foreign journalists said they had checked and that visa approval had not been given.
i checked with my sponsor last night after the immigration authority statement and tweets. He also checked again and I haven't got the approval for the visa.
— Devirupa Mitra (@DevirupaM) September 22, 2018
Likewise. Following @ImmigrationMV's statement, the local sponsor said he checked multiple times last night and this morning, but there was no visa approval. Those of us listed as monitors, and haven't yet obtained a visa, also missed the @ElectionsMv briefing we were invited to https://t.co/zoqLj0STPX
— Meera Srinivasan (@Meerasrini) September 22, 2018
The Asian Network for Free Elections said it received EC accreditation on September 1, 14 days before the business visa application deadline. Its team had submitted the forms and complied with Immigration rules but no visa was forthcoming.
It said Maldivian authorities appeared to be issuing visas to those it perceived as friendly while using ANFREL’s name and that of others to gain international legitimacy.
How the votes will be counted:
After sealing the ballot boxes at the end of voting, all materials used for voting, including the unused ballots and counterfoils will be packed and sealed in a security envelope. (This process will be carried out in the presence of the candidates, candidate agents, candidate representatives, observers and monitors).
The ballot box will be opened and emptied out onto the table.
The ballot papers will be sorted into categories of invalid votes and two piles for each candidate. Each ballot paper (invalid votes, votes for each candidate) will then be shown to those present.
After showing the ballot papers, the votes will be counted out loud by two officials and bundled together in ballot papers of 50. The label on each bundle will be filled out by a official. (If a ballot paper is deemed invalid, the reasons must be explained. Those present have the right to ask questions throughout the process, and any queries raised must be addressed).
During the counting process, an official will fill out the results sheet paper with a pen. The official in charge of the voting station, and at least two election officials who participated in vote counting, are legally required to sign this result sheet before officially announcing the results.
The results of the vote will be announced and publicly displayed in the voting station.
Photo of Elections Commission chief from vnews.mv