Maldives police block attempt at presidential vote

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Associated Press

Posted on October 18, 2013 at 11:32 PM

Updated Sunday, Oct 20 at 3:35 AM

MALE, Maldives (AP) — The Maldives sank further into political disarray Saturday when police blocked officials from conducting a presidential revote, saying that holding the election would violate a Supreme Court order.

It's the latest blow to this young Indian Ocean democracy. The current president's term ends in about three weeks, and if his replacement is not elected by then it will spark a constitutional crisis.

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan stepped in to resolve the impasse Saturday evening, saying he would propose that the revote be held Oct. 26. He was to meet later Saturday with the elections commissioner and the candidates to discuss his proposal.

"I am hoping that the election will be held as soon as possible," Hassan told The Associated Press. "I hope that over that week any outstanding problems will be ironed out. I am trying to ensure that a president is elected and gets installed before Nov. 11."

The top court annulled the results of the Sept. 7 presidential election, agreeing with a losing candidate that the voters' registry included fictitious names and dead people. The court set conditions for a revote that police said elections officials did not meet.

Elections Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek attempted to hold the revote as scheduled Saturday, but he said in the morning that the ground floor of his building was full of policemen stopping his staff from carrying election material outside. He then called the vote off.

Officer Abdulla Nawaz, speaking for the police, said the election was stopped because the commissioner did not comply with a court order to have the voters' list endorsed by all the candidates.

Thowfeek accused the police of overstepping their legitimate role.

"We are very much concerned about what is going on in this country. The Supreme Court decision does not ask police officers to look into the voters' list and check what is there," he told reporters.

"They kind of think they can be our bosses and we are an institution below them, and that they can dictate to us and control us," Thowfeek said.

Nawaz said police acted after consulting Hassan, government security officials, the attorney general and the Home Ministry.

Two of the three presidential candidates did not sign the voters' list Friday, saying it needed to be verified for any irregularities, but Thowfeek had said their demands for double-checking the list were impossible to meet in time for the election.

The Supreme Court said in its ruling annulling the September election that a revote must take place before Sunday. It likely will need to issue a new ruling in order for an election to be held before Hassan's term ends Nov. 11.

Hassan denied having asked police to stop the revote. He said government security officials met Friday and discussed police concerns that it would amount to breaking the law if they provided security for an election boycotted by two candidates.

He said it was decided that "forcing an election" was not in the country's interest because he feared the military and police would have to be deployed to conduct the vote.

Meanwhile, former President Mohamed Nasheed — who finished first in the September balloting but did not win the majority of votes needed to avoid a runoff — and his supporters held civil disobedience protests Saturday after the election was called off. They sat blocking a main road in the capital, Male, sipping tea, eating snacks and chewing spices.

Riot police were deployed in many parts of the city prepared to deal with protests.

Nasheed had endorsed the voter list. The other candidates — Yaamin Abdul Gayoom, who is a brother of the country's former autocratic leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and businessman Qasim Ibrahim, who challenged the first-round results in court — did not.

Adeeb Abdul Gafoor, a spokesman for Gayoom's Progressive Party of the Maldives, condemned the Elections Commission for calling off the election "instead of fully abiding by the Supreme Court rulings."

"The PPM applauds the Maldives Police Service on its decision at the 11th hour to ensure that the polling did not take place on the bogus list."

He said party members examining the voters list found a number of false entries and names of deceased people.

Thowfeek had announced earlier Saturday that he would hold the election on the court's advice, despite the fact that not all candidates had endorsed the list of voters. However, he said later that the court did not specifically advise that he conduct the election, but instead asked him to follow the original guidelines, which are open to interpretation.

The Maldives became a democracy five years ago after 30 years of autocratic rule and has had a difficult transition.

Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected president, was forced to resign last year midway through his term after he ordered the arrest of a senior judge he perceived as corrupt and partial. Nasheed says he was forced out of power by a coup, though an inquiry commission has dismissed his claim.

Maldivian institutions including the judiciary, police and public service are often perceived as partial and dominated by those loyal to Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who lost to Nasheed in 2008.

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Associated Press writer Hussain Sinan contributed to this report.

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