Maldives: Democracy kidnapped
On 7 September 2013, 88 percent of the Maldivian electorate turned out to vote in the country's second ever democratic election. In the glorious Saturday sunshine, over 200,000 people headed to over 400 polling stations on over 200 islands scattered across the Indian Ocean to vote for one of four candidates. Hundreds of Maldivians did the same in Sri Lanka, India, Singapore, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom. Forty five percent of them voted for Mohamed Nasheed, the candidate for Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP); 25 percent voted for Abdulla Yameen, former ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's half-brother and candidate for Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM); 24 percent voted for tourism tycoon Qasim Ibrahim, candidate for Jumhooree Party (JP); and 5 percent for incumbent Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik. By all accounts, the election was an exemplary display of the democratic process at work – free, fair and transparent, with less errors and discrepancies than is the expected norm in any such election. This was the consensus of all domestic and international observers from far and near. Although Mohamed Nasheed won a clear majority, he fell short of the 50% plus one required for an all out win. With eager anticipation, people began counting down days for the run-off second round between Nasheed and Yameen, scheduled for 28 September 2013.
It did not happen. On 11 September, Qasim Ibrahim, the tourism tycoon with deep pockets, filed a case at the High Court alleging fraud and vote rigging in the first round. He wanted the Court to allow him, and all other candidates, to see the list of people who voted on 7 September. Before the High Court could rule [ultimately in JP's favour], Qasim filed a case at the Supreme Court, this time asking not just to rule the Voters Registry void, but also for an annulment of the first round. Qasim's Villa Foundation had made 'donations' worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to students, schools and other such institutions during his expensive campaign. Given the amount of money he spent, he believed he should have got a better result. In his reasoning: "when you subtract 20,000 [the fraudulent votes allegedly received by the MDP] from those 90,000 [of the votes gained by the MDP] I believe it is us who are in the lead."
The jest was still continuing at the Court as 28 September approached. On 23 September it issued a ruling delaying the second round indefinitely. Later, it issued another order: the security forces must stop anyone who attempts to continue with preparations for the election. Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz was brimming with excitement over the new powers he was granted by the Supreme Court and quickly dispatched his Special Operations police to the Elections Commission, locking the Commission members and staff inside. Police forensic experts then took control of the Elections Commission database. Outside efforts to assist the Maldivian people in their efforts to vote for a leader of their choice were not welcome. This was reiterated by the Foreign Ministry's move to summon the Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives on the same evening. The Supreme Court ruling of that night effectively took the second Maldivian presidential election hostage.
Meanwhile the seven judges on the Supreme Court bench continued slowly with their 'deliberations'. Article 110 of the Maldives Constitution states that the President-elect must be in place at least 30 days before the expiry of the current Presidential term (in this case 11 November). Five days before this deadline, at midnight on 7 October, the court finally reached a verdict: annul the 7 September election and hold a new one before October 20. The new election would be overseen by the police, and must adhere strictly to 16 Guidelines accompanying the verdict.
According to the new Supreme Court guidelines, all voters re-registering had to submit their forms with fingerprints. And, if the forms were not submitted in person, they also needed to provide fingerprints of two witnesses. Voters all over the country and abroad rushed to meet the new requirements within the time period stipulated by the Elections Commission. The Muslim Eid holidays were scheduled from 14-19 October, and many people planned to be away. As voters got busy preparing their registration forms, Qasim Ibrahim and Abdulla Yameen got busy preparing another complaint to file at the Supreme Court. It was not sufficient, they said, that only those expecting to be at a new address on the 19 October re-register. At midnight on 10 October, the Supreme Court issued another order, again agreeing with Qasim and Yameen.