September 9, 2018, Colombo, Sri Lanka, — President Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the Maldives, welcomes the statement from the U.S. Department of State calling for a free and fair election that reflects the will of the Maldivian people to be held as scheduled on September 23. Amid widespread reports that the current president, Abdulla Yameen, and his hand-picked Elections Commission have conspired to steal the election by tampering with voter registration lists and paying citizens for their votes, President Nasheed urges the international community to carefully examine the results of the election for fairness and constitutional integrity in consultation with all political parties prior to accepting the victory of any presidential candidate.
The Maldives is a country of 350,000 citizens, and margins for victory in elections are historically narrow. Sadly, in the lead up to the 2018 elections, the sitting government has denied visas to most international media, including Reuters journalists. Thus, the need for careful attention to the results of upcoming polls by election observers and the international community at large has never been more urgent.
Should Maldivians be deprived of their constitutional right to choose their own leader at the ballot box, President Nasheed urges the nations of the world to join the United States in its call to evaluate “appropriate measures against those individuals who undermine democracy, the rule of law, and a free and fair electoral process.”
Concerns regarding election fraud are as follows:
— Election-fraud concerns center on a voter re-registration drive initiated by the Elections Commission, which appears to be a deliberate exercise in vote rigging. The initial voter registry released by the government lacked voter identification numbers and voter photos in violation of Election Commission guidelines. There are reports that government loyalists have been issued duplicate ID cards that they can use to vote at multiple locations. There are also reports that government-supported gangs are paying citizens to “rent” their ID cards, thus denying them access to polls where identification is required to cast their vote.
— Many citizens who registered to vote at polling stations abroad, in London, Colombo and elsewhere, report that their registered polling place appears incorrectly on newly published voter registration lists, thus making it impossible for these individuals to cast their votes. With the entirety of the political opposition of the Maldives either sitting in prison or in exile abroad, this problem threatens to deny the right to vote to a section of the population large enough to swing the election.
— The government has forced all civil servants and employees of state-owned companies — amounting to approximately 66,000 voters — to re-register to vote by submitting forms to a designated individual at their place of employment. However, the individuals chosen to receive these forms are invariably political activists of the ruling party who can quietly throw away the re-registration forms of people who are known to support the opposition. There are widespread reports from civil servants that their names do not appear on voter registration lists, despite the fact that they submitted their re-registration forms.
— Leaked video shows that the individuals collecting the re-registration forms filed by civil servants and employees of government-owned companies have not forwarded them to the Elections Commission, but rather to President Yameen’s campaign headquarters. In the video, uploaded to the ruling PPM party’s social media account in July, the First Lady tells President Yameen that voter registration forms from civil servants and state-owned company staff are sent to the ruling party. She is heard saying in this video: “[Forms from] civil service and companies will come tonight … They will be registered … It is now being entered.” The Elections Commission has refused to investigate this outrage.
— The ruling party has barred most opposition candidates from running, and has utilized state resources to remove opposition candidates’ posters and campaign materials.
— There have been a number of violent attacks on opposition campaign quarters, including an attempt to assault the MDP candidate. The police have not investigated any of these incidents.
— State media actively campaigns for President Yameen, while the government has obstructed coverage of the election by private broadcaster Raajje TV.
— Foreign journalists have been denied accreditation to cover the Maldives during the election cycle.
— Contrary to past practice, representatives from opposition parties will not be allowed to refer to updated voter registration lists containing re-registration information while observing polls at each ballot box. Observers will only be allowed to refer to an outdated voter list. Opposition observers will not be able to determine if people are registered to vote at each ballot box thus creating conditions for massive voter fraud.
— In another departure from past practices, the police force has reportedly decided to forbid public access to areas where votes will be counted. This raises extreme alarm, given police involvement in the 2013 elections.
— The Elections Commission is headed by a former senior official of President Yameen’s political party, and the commission is stacked with government-appointed cronies. Maldivians fear the ruling PPM party, the Elections Commission, the Police and the Supreme Court are working together so that the outcome of the election can be engineered.
— The Elections Commission can declare a victory for President Yameen, the Supreme Court can ratify the result and the police and the military can enforce the government’s wishes. Implementation of such a scenario by the sitting government has historical precedent in the events of the 2013 election.