Maldives opposition cries foul over voting extension

Main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) slammed the country's electoral watchdog over its decision to extend voting in the ongoing local council elections on Saturday.

Elections Commissions (EC) had announced the extension minutes before the voting was scheduled to close at 4pm saying that all but three polling stations will close at 6pm. The three polling stations which failed to open more than two hours after voting opened will close at 8pm, the commission had announced.

During an impromptu press conference MDP chairperson Hassan Latheef questioned the elections commission's ability to hold a free and fair elections calling for the immediate resignation of its members.

Latheef accused the commission of attempting to influence the outcome of the elections through its arbitrary decision to extend voting.

The elections commission had earlier said no major complaints had been reported during the elections. MDP however, refuted the claim insisting that several major complaints had been flagged including possible vote rigging.

The sudden decision had sparked confusion and several ballot boxes had reportedly been closed at the 4pm cut-off time but had later been re-opened.

Opposition Jumhoory Party (JP) deputy leader Hussain Rasheed said the elections commission had no mandate to ensure a certain voter turnout insisting that closed ballot boxes cannot be re-opened in violation of due procedure.

MDP deputy chairperson Ali Niyaz said the exit polls had shown a landslide victory for the opposition.

The commission is yet to officially comment on the voter turnout, but most polling stations had reported low turnouts.

Originally slated for January 14 the council elections had been delayed thrice, first ordered by the civil court over the rift in the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and twice by the elections commission.

After rescheduling the polls for April 8 after the court ruling, the commission postponed the polls again to April 15, claiming that public schools were unavailable to accommodate polling stations at an earlier date before delaying it for the third time to May 6 after the swine flu outbreak.

Compared to the more illustrious parliamentary and presidential elections, the council elections in the past have been considered less significant to the political parties in the Maldives since the decentralized system was introduced in 2009.

However, the elections comes amid an intense showdown between the government and the now opposition parties as both sides urging the people to come out in numbers to declare their support through the vote.

A total of 1,487 candidates will be contesting the elections for 664 seats including 563 councilors to 179 island councils, 67 councilors to 18 atoll councils and 23 councilors to three city councils.

A total of 255,987 Maldivians are eligible to vote and 422 ballot boxes will be set up across the country.

Ahead of the vote, police had assured that steps have been taken to ensure a peaceful vote saying that police officers have been dispatched to all polling stations.

Saturday’s election would also take place despite the refusal of opposition candidates to endorse the voter list. A guideline imposed by the supreme court during the 2013 presidential election requires all political parties and independent candidates to verify and approve the voter registry.

Candidates from the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and ally Jumhoory Party (JP) have refused to sign the lists citing concerns over accuracy. But the elections commission maintains that their refusal is not a legal obstacle to conducting the polls.