Press statement in connection with the 30 August 2018 statement issued by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM)

02 September 2018

The statement said that the HRCM has visited several locations around the country and conducted significant inquiries to assess and establish whether a conducive environment to hold a free and fair elections exist, to hold the scheduled Presidential Election on 23 September 2018. The statement also said that the Commission’s findings support its conclusion that a conducive environment to hold a free and fair elections exist in the country. While the HRCM issued such a statement, we note that there are several civil society actors who are also trying to establish whether the prevailing electoral environment is conducive to hold free and fair elections. The Commission’s statement evokes disbelief, notably due to the fact that there is significant inconsistency between the Commission’s findings and the openly and publicly available information and evidence to the contrary.

The organisations uniting to issue this statement notes that some of the developments observed during the current pre-election period raises many significant questions about the possibility of free and fair elections. In addition, we believe that the Commission must carefully re-assess and evaluate the following key points:

1) Given that the current President of the Elections Commission is a person who was actively involved in leading the campaign of one of the candidates running in this election, it is unlikely that he would be able to make electoral decisions impartially. Further, his appointment was hastily made, being approved by a parliamentary session with less than half the members of the People’s Majlis in attendance.

2) The fact that some electoral officials of the Elections Commission are being observed participating in the governing party’s campaign activities undermines the independence of the Elections Commission.

3) The fact that the processes to register and re-register to vote have been mired with various problems, with widespread concern, complaints and worry about losing the right to vote due to the burden of having to repeatedly re-register, raises questions about how well the Elections Commission is handling its responsibilities, potentially leading to public loss of trust in that Commission.
4) The fact that amendments that have now been made to electoral laws and regulations have led to the loss of citizens’ right to vote in elections and to run for elected office.

5) The fact that the Elections Commission had on one occasion admitted that voter registration information held by the Commission had been leaked to the governing party, had then changed this account leads to further confuse the situation. In addition, this issue has not been independently investigated to date.

6) The fact that a particular political party is cold-calling voters and asking citizens to renew their national identity card contributes to undermine their right to privacy, and helps to support the perception that personal information had in fact been leaked.

7) The fact that 300 detainees had been released from prison by the Maldives Correctional Services after the voter registration period ended, and there is no information available as to what arrangements have been made to facilitate them to vote.

8) The fact that attempts have been made by some sources to physically attack some candidates running for election and that these are deliberate attempts to obstruct their election activities.

9) The fact that as the elections approaches, there is a marked increase in violent crimes in Male’ and the atolls, contributing to uncertainty in the electoral environment and an increased sense of fear induced among citizens.

10) The fact that when the incumbent President, who is also contesting this election, visits islands across the country, police are mobilised to order opposition supporters to remove their campaign materials, which the police themselves proceed to remove if they are not immediately removed; plus the repeated incidents of police entering opposition campaign premises are all to be seen on public news reports and images.

11) The fact that the opposition are not allowed equal opportunity to conduct campaign activities – which include not releasing meeting venues and spaces, not providing media coverage and the arrest and detention of several opposition supporters.

12) The fact that members of the board of State media, PSM, are seen actively participating in and presenting governing party rallies and campaign events.

13) The fact that Elections Commission has rejected the inclusion and participation of a civil society organisation such as Transparency Maldives in the elections National Advisory Committee in this election, which has been the practice in past elections.

14) The fact that the concerns raised in the open letter sent by an editor of Mihaaru news, to the head of the President of the Elections Commission Mr Shareef, appealing the Commissioner to uphold electoral legal responsibilities are based on valid concerns raised by sources that closely scrutinise and base judgement on reliable information, lends credibility to those concerns.
15) The fact that Transparency Maldives is one of the most experienced elections observers in the country, who had produced a Pre-Election Assessment in May this year, and who had highlighted 11 issues related to the elections and proposed a 10 point list of recommendations to improve the situation, none of which have been addressed.

In addition to the above, we note with regret that as the HRCM conducts its inquiries to gather information, none of our organisations have been consulted to date. Further, we call on the HRCM not to issue statements that can be interpreted as irresponsible and misleading to the public about serious electoral issues, without giving due consideration to the grave concerns mentioned above.