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US warns of ‘appropriate measures’ over election challenge

The Supreme Court was asked to annul the September 23 presidential election.



The United States has reiterated the threat of sanctions with the Supreme Court due to rule on President Abdulla Yameen’s petition to annul the September 23 election.

The US was concerned by “troubling events in the Maldives that threaten to undermine the will of the Maldivian people,” including the Supreme Court case and threats against members of the Election Commission, Robert Palladino, deputy spokesman at the State Department, said Friday.

“The United States and the international community would view with great concern any attempts to undermine the democratic process, including any delay to the inauguration scheduled for November 17,” he said.

“The United States will consider appropriate measures against anyone who undermine democracy, the rule of law, or a free and fair electoral process in the Maldives.”

The US urged all parties to “respect the will of the Maldivian people and to ensure a smooth and peaceful transition of power.”

Palladino noted last week’s visit of a top US diplomat who met president-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to “emphasise that the United States is eager to expand cooperation with his government, and to assist Maldives in its return to a democratic path.”

A week after conceding defeat, Yameen claimed he should have received more than 96,000 votes (42 percent) and the ruling party launched nightly protests over alleged undue influence over the  electoral body.

But the five-member Elections Commission dismissed the “unsubstantiated allegations” of fraud and vote rigging and stressed there were no complaints or irregularities that could affect the outcome.

The Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing of the election case for Sunday afternoon.

At a press briefing Saturday morning, the president-elect’s spokeswoman urged the president to relent as US sanctions would hurt ordinary Maldivians. Unlike pariah states under international sanctions, the Maldives was reliant on imports for food and energy, MP Mariya Ahmed Didi observed.

Citing leaked documents, local media reported Friday that the president’s challenge is built on allegations about a disappearing ink on ballot papers and a ring with a pen used by election officials.

The officials are accused of secretly marking empty ballots during the counting process, which took place in front of observers, media monitors and candidate representatives.

Secret witnesses would testify that the rings were brought over from China and used as instructed by two EC members.

M7 Print, which won the bid to print ballot papers, has two children of Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim and a party official among its shareholders, it was noted.

The court was asked to order a police investigation of the ballots.

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.

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.

For the court to order fresh polls, judges must determine that “the results of the election could change” due to proven irregularities or wrongdoing.

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.

In this year’s polls, Yameen lost by a record margin of 38,653 votes. Solih was confirmed as the winner with 134,705 votes (58 percent).

According to the ruling party, the decision to challenge the results “was taken in accordance with the response by the [Maldives Police Service]” after the party submitted election-related complaints.

In a statement Thursday, the joint opposition called on Yameen to “immediately withdraw this blatantly unsubstantiated case, and to step aside and to facilitate a peaceful, and smooth transition.”

The coalition also urged the Supreme Court and security services to uphold the will of the people.

“Maldivians used the ballot to defeat the dictatorial regime. Yameen must not be allowed to perverse the hard-won opportunity for all Maldivians to attain meaningful democracy and stability.”