The elections commission rejected applications from 32 Raajje TV journalists to monitor Saturday’s local council elections and report from inside polling stations with accredited passes.
Hussain Fiyaz Moosa, the opposition-aligned station’s chief operating officer, told the Maldives Independent that the commission claimed it did not receive the application forms.
“But we’d applied online and got a reply. Sixteen of the forms were rejected because of different issues like grainy photos, incomplete forms,” he said.
Fiyaz said the forms were resubmitted after correcting the problems but were rejected again.
But Ahmed Akram, an elections commission member, told the Maldives Independent that 165 monitor passes were granted to Raajje TV.
“Raajje TV along with TVM are observing these elections the most widely. Yes, 32 forms were rejected. We had to reject many forms various parties, for various reasons like incomplete applications,” he said.
Akram recalled that an employee from the station picked up the passes from the EC office.
Fiyaz said the 165 passes were for temporary staff hired to gather results from polling stations whilst the 32 rejected applications were for the station’s full-time journalists.
Raajje TV has been using footage and live feed from other stations for its coverage of the voting, he said.
Thoriq Hamid from Transparency Maldives, which has 19 observers stationed across the country, stressed that observers “play a crucial role in guaranteeing confidence in the electoral process.”
“Administrative hindrances should not prevent observers from participating,” he told the Maldives Independent.
According to rules set by the EC, applicants were required to fill an online form and submit a scanned copy of their national identity card, a passport size photo, and a scanned copy of the filled monitor or observer form.
Organisations seeking to register observers were also required to submit a cover letter with its letterhead, the company stamp, and a list of the observers burned onto a CD in Excel format.
Ahmed Naaif, a project coordinator from local human rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network, said the commission refused to accept applications for seven of the organisation’s observers.
“We took the portfolio to them, with the cover letter and the CD but they rejected our application. They said they did not receive our applications online,” he said.
Naaif said MDN also wrote the commission asking for reconsideration of the applications but were rejected again.
“We requested for a meeting later but we didn’t get a reply to that letter,” he said.
He added that the NGO was forced to observe the election environment rather than the electoral process.
“Today, we are looking at things like voter turnout, voting environment here in Malé instead of observing at poll stations,” he said.
“Election is opened to observers to guarantee that it’s free and fair. If observers and civil societyorganisationss cannot be accommodated in this process, it raises questions. We had to pester them to even get a response to our appeal letter. [The commission] should be more accommodating”
But Akram said the MDN’s applications were incomplete.
“So we gave them additional time but they did not complete applications within that period,” he said.
“I think in no other election has observers gotten more time to register. Because of the delays and extensions, there was adequate time to submit applications.”