Protests erupt after SC suspends Maldivian presidential race

Wednesday, 25 September 2013 00:42 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  •  MDP calls for international intervention and pledges continuous dissent
  • Army deployed around military headquarters
  • MPs arrested say local reports
  • Commonwealth calls for swift polls
By Uditha Jayasinghe in Male Scattered protests were seen in the Maldives capital by supporters of ousted President Nasheed yesterday after the Supreme Court indefinitely postponed presidential elections. Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected president, polled an impressive 45.45% of the vote in the first round but failed to obtain a crucial 50% mandate that would have prevented a second round runoff. He was expected to go head-to-head in a second round of voting on 28 September against former President Abdul Gayoom’s half-brother Abdulla Yamin who grabbed 25.35% of the vote. However, tycoon Gasim Ibrahim who crossed the finish line in third place, lodged a case citing instances of vote rigging resulting in the polls being deferred. Nasheed’s party, the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) has vehemently condemned the polls suspension and has called on the international community to intervene. “We urgently appeal to our friends in the international community to use their good offices to ensure that elections can swiftly proceed in the Maldives,” MDP International Affairs Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said. He also reiterated that the MDP views the Supreme Court’s decision as unconstitutional and even went so far as to question the credibility of the bench that issued the order.“This ruling is a cynical attempt by President Nasheed’s political opponents to delay an election they feared they were likely to lose,” he stressed. As stated by the United Nations Human Rights Committee in July 2012, the MDP strongly believes the Supreme Court in particular needs “radical readjustment”. Dozens of people gathered to protest in areas dotted around the capital after MDP took a unanimous decision on Monday night to continuously protest in the streets until a date for the second round of polling is announced. Nasheed also urged the Elections Commission (EC) to disregard the Supreme Court’s ruling in favour of Parliament’s resolution and continue with election preparations. But according to local reports the EC has halted preparations and has cited significant wastage of public money. “The Chief Justice has to find a solution. I call on the Chief Justice to uphold his duties,” local media reported Nasheed as saying, asking police to support the EC and the military “to keep us safe.” Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid also confirmed to local media outlet Minivan News that he was pepper sprayed by police while several MDP MPs, including Ali Azim and Mohamed “Bonda” Rasheed, were reportedly taken away by police. Rasheed was reportedly released while Azim was taken into police custody. Army personnel were seen deployed outside the military headquarters in Male. Local monitors, Transparency International told the Daily FT that no evidence of vote rigging was found and that they fear an escalation of tensions if the polls are dragged out. Fear of unrest also prompted Commonwealth Secretary-General’s special envoy to the Maldives Sir Donald McKinnon to join the push for swift tabling of polls. In a statement he said the people of Maldives went to the polls on 7 September in “good faith” to elect a president. That election was found by national and international observers, notably by a high-level and experienced Commonwealth observer group, to be competitive and credible, McKinnon noted. “No election anywhere is going to be absolutely perfect and there was no evidence or claim before the election that the voter register was manifestly so deficient as to so distort the outcome,” he added. “I therefore hope very much that the Supreme Court will deliver its judgment expeditiously in the case pending before it so that the second round can be held, and the verdict of the Maldivian people determined, without further delay.” He went on to say that the people must be listened to and the Constitution respected. According to the Maldivian Constitution the second round of a presidential poll must be held within three weeks of the first round, meaning that 28 September is the last date to meet the deadline. “As I have stated before, the Maldivian people must be the winners in this election – they are collectively more important than any one political leader. The people of Maldives worked hard to get a democratic constitution, they want it respected and it is their right that the elections deliver a result that reflects the wishes of the majority.”