The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has expressed grave concern over the Election Commission’s plans to introduce electronic voting in the upcoming local council elections.
Ahmed Akram, an EC member, said the commission is planning to import e-voting machines by next month. E-voting would reduce costs and speed up vote counting.
Local council elections are scheduled for January 14, 2017.
The MDP, the largest political party in the Maldives, said the EC has failed to address its concerns so far.
“While the MDP supports implementing an e-voting in the long term, and since the most important aspect of an election is public trust, we are concerned about the lack of effort by the commission to spread awareness among the public as to why such a revolutionary change was necessary,” the party said in a statement.
Former President of the Elections Commission, Fuwad Thowfeek, has also 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, 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 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.
Critics have attributed the loss of trust to the Supreme Court’s sacking of Fuwad and EC Vice President Ahmed Fayaz in a controversial trial over charges of contempt of court. The pair were removed and handed suspended sentences a week before the 2014 parliamentary polls.
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 members if the civil court upholds the EC’s order in an ongoing lawsuit.
EC member Akram said concerns over e-voting were prompted by misconceptions.
“Voting will not be done over the internet, paper votes will be submitted through the machine and the machine will count the votes,” he said.
The EC plans to conduct a manual count as well as an electronic count during the 2017 local council elections to clear doubts, he said, adding that awareness programs had been held in some nine atolls.
Refuting the MDP’s claim that political parties were not consulted, he said: “Only one party raised concerns over e-voting and requested for a separate meeting to discuss it, but we have not heard from the party since.
“The commission plans to conduct more programs to make the public more aware about e-voting. We have been talking about e-voting for many years, it is time to improve ourselves at the same pace as technology.”