Supreme Court rejects secret witnesses in election challenge
A judgment is due on the president’s petition to annul the September 23 election.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to call secret witnesses and concluded hearing President Abdulla Yameen’s petition to annul the September 23 election.
The president’s lawyers wanted anonymised testimony from three unnamed witnesses who would confess to conspiring with Elections Commission chief Ahmed Shareef to tamper with ballots.
But the full bench ruled unanimously the witnesses were inadmissible.
After hearing closing arguments, Chief Justice Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi said a judgment would be delivered at the next hearing. He did not announce a date.
“We noted that these are conspiracy theories based on a lot of allegations and possibilities,” joint opposition lawyer Hisaan Hussain told the press.
There was no evidence to substantiate the claims, she stressed.
Yameen sought a Supreme Court order for fresh polls despite conceding hours after provisional results were announced.
He asked the court to order police to examine ballot papers.
During hearings over the past two days, lawyers representing the Elections Commission and joint opposition mocked the claims of pen rings, disappearing ink and chemically treated ballot papers.
“What this conspiracy theory is missing is a flying carpet,” Hisaan told the court on Monday.
According to the president’s lawyers, a pen with disappearing ink was left at the voting booth and elections officials used a ring with a secret pen to discreetly mark blank ballot papers.
The officials were alleged to have used the pen rings while unfolding and counting ballots, which took place in front of observers, media monitors and candidate representatives.
A chemical was also applied to make the checkmark disappear in the square next to Yameen’s name whilst a checkmark was printed in the other square and hidden with a special mineral layer.
The hidden checkmark reappears when “heat pressure such as folding the paper is applied.”
Suspicion was cast on the local company that won the bid to print ballot papers. M7 Print’s shareholders include Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim’s children, it was noted.
The EC awarded the bid unfairly, lawyers argued, alleging collusion and breaches of public finance rules.
Other complaints included lack of security for storing ballots, failure to use UV lights for verification at some polling stations, and the shifting of the national complaints bureau office.
But none of the complaints was raised by the ruling party on polling day.
– Closing arguments –
The president’s lawyer Abbas Shareef urged the Supreme Court to oversee an inquiry into vote rigging allegations. The petition was filed due to suspected violations of every citizen’s right to vote, he said.
“We did not submit this case under the Elections Act, but as a constitutional matter due to violations of the constitution,” the former High Court judge said.
It was filed as a “constitutional case” as the apex court has the authority to determine if an order by a state institution or any act or decision by an official contravened the constitution.
The election law requires the High Court to be petitioned for election annulment, for which it must determine that the results could change due to proven irregularities or wrongdoing.
Yameen lost by a record margin of 38,653 votes.
But a day after official results were announced, he claimed he should have received more than 96,000 votes (42 percent). The ruling party launched nightly protests over alleged undue influence over the independent electoral body.
Responding to Abbas, EC lawyer Hussein Shameem said the nature of the president’s case remained unclear.
“On the first day they said it is a constitutional matter. Yesterday, while arguing passionately, their lawyer said it was a constitutional matter with criminal elements, today they are again saying it is constitutional,” he said.
The onus was on the president to prove the election was rigged, the former deputy prosecutor general said.
The ballot printing bid was awarded with permission from the finance ministry, he noted. The complaints bureau did not stop work despite moving to a different location and there was ample opportunity to submit complaints directly to the EC or through island focal points and officials in charge of polling stations.
The UV lights were to be used to check ballots in case of complaints but there was none, he added.
In her closing arguments, Hisaan said the whole case hinged on Yameen’s inability to accept the outcome.
“Refusing to accept defeat, Yameen has made his dejection, sorrow and misery a constitutional matter to be submitted to this court,” the top opposition lawyer said.
Both pro-government and opposition demonstrators were gathered outside the courthouse when the hearings took place.
Riot police were present to prevent verbal sparring from escalating into violent confrontations.
With only 30 people allowed to observe proceedings, ruling party supporters started queuing up Monday evening for the final hearing.
Last week, the United States reiterated threats to impose sanctions if there were “any attempts to undermine the democratic process, including any delay to the inauguration scheduled for November 17.”
Photo of opposition legal team by Mohamed Sharuhaan for Raajje.mv