Tensions were running high in the Maldives capital Sunday as the Supreme Court heard President Abdulla Yameen’s petition to annul the September 23 election.
The president’s legal team presented their case and the Elections Commission’s lawyers offered its response. The full bench of the apex also heard from lawyers representing the joint opposition parties, who were allowed to enter the case as a third party.
A second hearing has been scheduled for Monday morning.
According to reports, the EC lawyer dismissed vote rigging claims as “imaginary.”
The president’s case was based on “conspiracy theories” without any evidence, Hisaan Hussain, the opposition’s top lawyer told the press after the hearing.
The Supreme Court was petitioned by the president to order a police investigation into alleged tampering with ballot papers.
His allegations included a pen with disappearing ink, a vanishing chemical on ballot papers, and a ring with a pen used by election officials.
The officials are accused of secretly marking blank ballots during the counting process, which took place in front of observers, media monitors and candidate representatives.
The court was asked to call secret witnesses who would testify that the rings were brought over from China and used as instructed by two EC members.
Suspicion was also cast on the local company that printed the ballot papers. There was wrongdoing by the EC in awarding the bid and the company has Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim’s children among its shareholders, it was noted.
The president contested the election despite publicly conceding and congratulating Ibrahim Mohamed Solih a day after the polls.
The incumbent lost by a record margin of 38,653 votes and the joint opposition candidate was later certified as the winner with 134,705 votes (58 percent).
But a week later, Yameen claimed he should have received more than 96,000 votes (42 percent) as the ruling party launched nightly protests over alleged undue influence over the independent electoral body.
The EC dismissed “unsubstantiated allegations” and stressed there were no complaints or irregularities that could affect the outcome.
– Protests and warnings –
Opposition protesters called for the president’s arrest while the hearing took place.
Senior government officials, opposition figures and members of the public queued up to register hours before the hearing began at 1pm.
After about 30 people, including 10 journalists, were allowed to enter, police officers and soldiers in riot gear pushed people back behind barricades, breaking up confrontations between opposition and pro-government supporters.
Rival protesters sparred verbally and riot police used pepper spray.
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On Friday, 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.”
Ahead of the hearing Sunday, the local chapter of Transparency International, which conducted a nationwide election observation, echoed the calls to uphold the will of the people.
“As noted in our pre-election assessments, while the pre-election environment was systematically set-up to favour the incumbent, the issues observed on election day itself were not serious enough to impact the outcome of the election,” the NGO said in a statement.
“Furthermore, the election results were accepted by all political parties, including the ruling party.”
According to the election law, the High Court can be petitioned to annul the election if there was undue influence, bribery or breaches of electoral laws and regulations.
The court must determine that “the results of the election could change” due to proven irregularities or wrongdoing.
But the president’s challenge was filed at the Supreme Court as a “constitutional case.” 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.
Citing a confidential police report, the Supreme Court controversially annulled the first round of the 2013 presidential election over 5,600 fraudulent votes, which exceeded the narrow margin between the second and third placed candidates.
But the revote largely mirrored the results of the annulled election.
Main arguments of the president’s election challenge:
- Opposition leader Gasim Ibrahim’s family has shares in the company that printed ballot papers
- Concerns about security for the room at the EC headquarters where ballot papers were stored
- A ring that could put tick marks was used to tamper with ballot papers
- A chemical to erase the vote was used on the ballot paper
- UV light was not used to check the validity of ballot papers
- There was campaigning and bribery in voting queues
- Unauthorised items were taken into polling stations
- Ballot papers of three boxes do not match
- Issues with the voting booth set-up
- Issues with the national complaint bureau, including changing it suddenly to Dharubaaruge and not being able to submit complaints through phone
- Security envelopes for ballot papers were not closed at polling stations