Legal Politics

Supreme Court rejects secret witnesses in election challenge

The Supreme Court has concluded hearing President Abdulla Yameen’s petition to annul the September 23 election after refusing to call secret witnesses.

The court was asked to hear anonymised testimony from three unnamed witnesses who would confess to conspiring with Elections Commission chief Ahmed Shareef to tamper with ballots.

But the full bench ruled unanimously the witnesses were inadmissible.

After hearing closing arguments Tuesday morning, Chief Justice Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi said a judgment would be delivered at the next hearing. He did not announce a date.

“We noted these are conspiracy theories based on a lot of allegations and possibilities,” joint opposition lawyer Hisaan Hussain told the press.

There was no evidence to substantiate the claims, she stressed.

Yameen sought a Supreme Court order for fresh polls despite conceding hours after provisional results were announced.

He asked the court to order police to examine ballot papers and investigate the alleged vote rigging.

During hearings over the past two days, lawyers representing the Elections Commission and joint opposition mocked the claims of pen rings, disappearing ink and chemically treated ballot papers.

“What this conspiracy theory is missing is a flying carpet,” Hisaan told the court on Monday.

According to the president’s case, a pen with disappearing ink was left at the voting booth and elections officials used a ring with a secret pen to discreetly mark blank ballot papers while unfolding and stacking ballots.

The officials were alleged to have used the pen rings during the counting process, which took place in front of observers, media monitors and candidate representatives.

A chemical was also applied to make the checkmark disappear in the square next to his name. A checkmark was meanwhile printed in the other square and hidden with a special mineral layer.

The hidden checkmark reappears when “heat pressure such as folding the paper is applied.”

Suspicion was cast on the local company that won the bid to print ballot papers. Other complaints included lack of security for storing ballots, failure to use UV lights for verification at some polling stations, and the shifting of the national complaints bureau office.

But none of the complaints were raised by the ruling party on polling day.

For an election to be annulled, the election law requires the High Court to determine that “the results of the election could change” due to proven irregularities or wrongdoing.

Yameen lost by a record margin of 38,653 votes.

But a day after official results were announced, he claimed he should have received more than 96,000 votes (42 percent) and the ruling party launched nightly protests over alleged undue influence over the independent electoral body.

The president’s challenge was filed at the Supreme Court as a “constitutional case.” The apex court has the authority to determine if an order by a state institution or any act or decision by an official contravened the constitution.

Both pro-government and opposition demonstrators were gathered outside the Supreme Court when the hearings took place. With only 30 people allowed to observe proceedings, ruling party supporters started queuing up Monday evening for the final hearing.

Last week, the United States reiterated threats to impose sanctions if there were “any attempts to undermine the democratic process, including any delay to the inauguration scheduled for November 17.”

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Source URL:  Maldives Independent

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