By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Mirror
The Maldivian Elections Commissioner Ahmed Shareef and his four Commissioners, find themselves in the unenviable position of being between a rock and a hard place.
On the one hand, Ahmed Shareef and his four commissioners are hounded by incumbent President Abdulla Yameen, who was resoundingly defeated by the coalition candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, in the September 23 Presidential election. On the other hand, they are disregarded, if not despised, by the Joint Opposition for having been lackeys of Yameen.
Yameen, who had initially accepted the result gracefully and declared that he would hand over power to Solih on November 17 (when his term ends officially) suddenly made an about turn and declared that the election was rigged.
He accused the Elections Commission headed by Ahmed Shareef of having rigged it in the opposition’s favour by taking money from it.
Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) charged that the September 23 election was the most disorganized one yet, and that Shareef had used some ingenious methods to nullify votes cast in Yameen’s favour.
The PPM claimed pointed out to a social media audio clip doing the rounds which had Shareef talking to an unidentified person about the rigging process and assuring him that he would not be arrested.
However, Shareef, has denied the charges, describing them as baseless and preposterous.
The entire process of voting and counting had taken place in front of international observers, who had declared the election as free and fair, he told this writer in a telephone conversation.
As for the charge of taking a bribe from the Joint Opposition, he said that he denied that he had the bank account into which the money was allegedly deposited.
According to another Commissioner, Yameen did not expect to lose the elections “Although the ground situation was far from favourable for him.”
The Commissioner said:
“Yameen believed the Yes Men surrounding him who gave him a rosy picture. He never did any field study to test what was told to him. Shocked by the result he started suspecting foul play by the Elections Commission at the behest of the opposition.”
Yameen not only got the PPM to level serious charges against Shareef but allegedly sent goons to harass the families of the commissioners.
At first, two of the commissioners fled the country fearing arrest and soon all, except Shareef, fled. Fear of arrest was heightened after Shareef sacked the Police Chief and appointed a more pliant one.
However, the Opposition has not rushed to Shareef’s rescue as they too had made serious charges against him during the election campaign.
According to Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Spokesman, Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, the Opposition believes that it won the election despite the machinations of Shareef and his team who were allegedly paid by Yameen to rig the poll in his favour.
According to Maldives Independent Shareef was hand-picked by the President and endorsed by the ruling PPM at a Parliament sitting boycotted by the Opposition.
Shareef had been Secretary General of Yameen’s PPM and was therefore a highly trusted follower.
Upon his nomination, the spokesman of the main Opposition MDP, Imthiyaz Fahmy, had said: “We have no trust in his independence.”
Maldives Independent further reported:
“Shareef’s Twitter page was enough to question his neutrality. As the head of the State Utility Fenaka Corporation, Shareef championed Yameen and worked in his re-election campaign, calling the President a hero while taunting the opposition.”
Shareef had further said: “The Opposition knows they don’t have a slightest chance of winning an independent election against HEP Yameen because of his transformational economic agenda. The only way to achieve their selfish goals coming to power is to attempt a coup, using money they owe to the people.”
This was in a tweet a month before his appointment to the independent electoral watchdog.
“Ahead of last year’s municipal elections, Shareef was caught on video promising jobs for Opposition candidates if they withdrew their candidacies. Citing his partisan background, the opposition alleged collusion and suspected Shareef would fix the election,” Maldives Independence reported.
Opposition’s Strategy To Counter Rigging
Expecting the poll to be rigged by Shareef and the Elections Commission (EC), the Joint Opposition worked doubly hard to win the poll in such a way that rigging would not be easy, MDP Spokesman Ghafoor told this writer.
“We went on door-to-door canvassing and used all social networks to reach the grassroots. We were crunching numbers on a daily basis, while Yameen was sitting pretty, over confident about the system being geared to his needs and that his economic achievements would win him a clear majority.”
“We got a little over 58% of the valid votes and the election could not be rigged. In other words, Shareef could not carry out the job given to him by Yameen. People had come in their thousands to vote. If they were registered in far flung areas with a design to discourage them from voting, they went to those places to exercise their franchise. Polling time had to be extended to allow the assembled to vote,” Ghafoor pointed out.
Shareef Becomes Fall Guy
A shocked Yameen turned his guns against Shareef.
“Shareef was made the fall guy. Yameen suspected him of taking money from the Joint Opposition to rig the election in the latter’s favour,” Ghafoor said. Shareef is now “between a rock and a hard place,” the MDP Spokseman said.
Neither Yameen nor Solih trusts him. Yameen is threatening to arrest him.
According to the media, barring Shareef, the rest of the four commissioners have left the Maldives. The UN Representative in the Maldives has met Shareef and heard his woes. The US has appealed to Yameen and the Joint Opposition to sit together and sort out issues to bring about a smooth transfer of power.
Transition Not Easy
According to Ghafoor the situation in the Maldives is “messy” and transition from Yameen to Solih is not going to be easy. He believes that Yameen will do his utmost to stay in power. He has already changed the chief of the police, and is planning to replace the Elections Commission.
Yameen has time until October 12 to file complaints against the EC, and if the complaints panel finds merit in his submissions, it could recommend fresh elections. And a reconstituted EC could conduct a fresh poll.
Yameen’s party has said that it was not ruling out going to the Supreme Court to annul the election. “The current Supreme Court judges had been handpicked by him. Yameen is counting on them to give a judgment favourable to him,” Ghafoor said.
But Ghafoor believes that peoples’ power will ultimately prevail over Yameen’s machinations.
The Opposition plans a series of measures to prevent recurrence of such sordid happenings.
“When we take over, we will change the constitution from the Presidential to the Parliamentary system; liberate the judiciary from the clutches of the Executive; and put an end to the rule of kleptocrats,” Ghafoor said.
(The featured image at the top shows President-elect Solih, Chief Elections Commissioner Shareef and incumbent President Yameen)