Verdict looms in Maldives election challenge
The Supreme Court was undecided on hearing from secret witnesses.
The Supreme Court inched closer Monday to a decision on President Abdulla Yameen’s petition to annul the September 23 election.
As hearings entered its second day amid growing public anxiety, lawyers sparred over secret witnesses who would confess to an alleged conspiracy with Elections Commission chief Ahmed Shareef to commit voter fraud.
Chief Justice Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi announced the court would decide whether to hear their testimony at a final hearing scheduled for 10:30am Tuesday.
During the four-hour hearing, the president’s lawyer Abbas Shareef argued the three witnesses could face serious threats if their identities were revealed. Their story was powerful enough for the justices to allow anonymised testimony, he said.
Redacted statements were shared with the bench and defence lawyers.
The Elections Commission’s lawyer Hussain Shameem objected to allowing secret witnesses in a case that affects the rights of a majority of Maldivians.
Hisaan Hassan, the joint opposition’s lawyer, noted the lack of precedent in a constitutional matter.
President Yameen is contesting the election despite publicly conceding and congratulating Ibrahim Mohamed Solih a day after the polls.
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.
Tensions were running high in the capital as the Supreme Court began hearings on Sunday afternoon. Riot police and soldiers intervened to stop confrontations between opposition and pro-government supporters, who continued shouting matches outside the courthouse.
– ‘Flying carpet’ –
Both the EC and opposition lawyers heavily criticised the “imaginary” allegations of vote rigging and electoral fraud.
“What this conspiracy theory is missing is a flying carpet,” Hisaan Hussain told the court.
The president’s case is mainly built on alleged tampering with the ballot paper.
- M7 Print won the bid to print ballot papers despite proposing a much higher price than competitor Novelty Printer
- M7 board of directors include a Jumhooree Party member and two children of JP leader Gasim Ibrahim
- M7’s printing machine lacked automatic audit features to prevent printing of additional ballot papers
- The ballot papers were stored in a room at the elections centre without sufficient security
- A chemical was applied to make the tick or checkmark disappear in the square next to candidate number one.
- A checkmark was pre-printed in candidate number two’s square and hidden with a special mineral layer. The hidden checkmark reappears when “heat pressure such as folding the paper is applied.”
- A pen with disappearing ink was left at the voting booth
- Elections official used a ring with a pen to mark blank ballot papers while unfolding and stacking ballots
- The national complaints bureau was abruptly changed to the Dharubaaruge convention centre in Malé, which made it difficult to submit complaints as there were no arrangements to accept complaints via phone or fax
- The Elections Commission returned several complaints forwarded by the bureau
- UV light was not used at some polling stations to verify ballot papers
- The number of ballot papers was not announced at some polling stations before voting began
- There were 25 additional ballots in a box in Hulhumalé
- Ballot papers were taken out of some polling stations and fake ballots were slipped into boxes
- There was no secrecy or privacy due to the way voting booths were set up in some polling stations
- Some security envelops with ballot papers were not sealed when they were brought to the election centre in the capital
- There was illegal campaigning and bribery in some voting queues
- Unauthorised items such as handbags were taken into polling stations
Presenting the case on Sunday, the president’s lawyer Mohamed Saleem reportedly alleged foreign involvement in tampering with ballot papers, which he said should be investigated by the security forces.
He accused two EC members of bringing the rings and providing it to officials in charge of polling stations across the country.
The documents submitted to back the claims included photos of the ring and statements from employees of the EC and the complaints bureau. Bid documents and information about M7 were also submitted.
In its response, the EC lawyer said the challenge was built on “doubts and suspicions” that “do not rise to the level of allegations.”
Shameem, a former deputy prosecutor general, stressed the lack of evidence to back up the claims.
While the election law requires the court to determine that “the results of the election could change” due to proven irregularities or wrongdoing, Shameem noted that the president’s complaint does not specify how many votes he lost due to rigging.
Yameen lost by a record margin of 38,653 votes.
The ballot paper printing bid was awarded to M7 with the written permission of the finance minister, he continued, dismissing alleged breaches of the public finance rules.
Only authorised EC staff were allowed entry to the room where ballot papers were stored, Shameem said. He submitted entry logs to the court and noted that police officers were in charge of security.
He noted that the EC had encouraged voters to bring their own pens.
Shameem defended the complaints bureau move and insisted that it remained accessible. The bureau responded to more than 400 complaints submitted before the deadline, he added.
The use of UV lights to check ballots was not a legal requirement and there were no complaints about polling stations where it was not used.
He acknowledged 38 complaints about voters who took handbags and mobile phones into polling stations. The officials in charge are under investigation, he said.