Veteran Maldives journalist and Mihaaru editor Moosa Latheef wrote an open letter to the Election Commission chief Wednesday and urged him to remain impartial with the presidential polls less than a month away.
Latheef charted Ahmed Shareef’s career: rising through the ranks in the education sector to the head of a state utility company. But his current job was different, Latheef wrote, as it did not allow for bias.
“Looking at the scenes, the sounds and the state of affairs of the country today, there is no state official who holds a bigger responsibility than you right now.”
The election, due to be held on September 23, has been causing anger and controversy for months.
A state of emergency and legal amendments have ensured that President Abdulla Yameen’s opponents remain in exile or in prison. There have been complaints about the re-registration process and concerns about identity fraud and disenfranchising voters.
Shareef was appointed in March and was Yameen’s nominee to the five-member electoral body.
“On March 6, 2018 you swore a big oath in the name of Allah,” said Lateef in his strongly worded letter.
‘I, Ahmed Shareef, swear in the name of Allah to respect the Islamic faith, to protect the constitution, to be sincere to the Maldives, to remain truthful and faithful in fulfilling the duties of being a member of the Election Commission as mandated by the constitution and the law.
“I am saying that you do not have the choice to take sides today. Even though you took the oath in front of President Abdulla Yameen that oath brought an end to you (having a choice) to take the side of Yameen and the PPM (ruling party).”
Latheef said Shareef had failed to carry out his duties effectively.
“It is noticeable that (you) have let the colours of the PPM seep into your duties. We see proof that you let the ruling party do what it wants. You took steps to disenfranchise voters.”
– ‘Betrayal of duties’ –
Latheef described the EC’s initial decision to put ballot boxes in only seven resorts as a “betrayal of his (Shareef’s) duties.
The matter proved that Shareef and his four colleagues in EC were “ready to do as others say,” Latheef wrote, despite the EC later backtracking on this decision.
Latheef also challenged the EC’s handling of re-registration fraud complaints.
The commission inviting South African IT firm Laxton Group to discuss e-voting in future elections sowed doubt and mistrust after four years of the commission being controlled by the state.
“Given the current state of the country, the responsibilities of the Election Commission’s president is not a toy. It would not be possible for someone without a daring, faithful, intelligent and independent character to provide equal opportunities for candidates and protect people’s rights in the face of a government that has taken hostage all state institutions.
“You have that chance now. So I ask you, do you want your name to go down in history as someone who was impartial? Or as someone who infringed upon people’s rights? Decide for yourself. Choose for yourself.”
His letter came as Mihaaru warned its readers to be wary of fake headlines with the newspaper’s logo and graphics.
“Even if it is aimed at presidential candidates or others, spreading fake news by using the logo and graphics of Mihaaru is against the duties of journalism and a deliberate attempt to deceive the public,” the paper said in a short announcement on its website.
It urged readers to check the paper’s website if there were questionable headlines on social media. It also asked people to stop using the Mihaaru logo and graphics to spread fake news.