Opposition slams roll-back on ballot boxes in resorts

Maldives opposition has slammed the electoral watchdog over its decision to place ballot boxes in just seven resorts for the upcoming presidential elections.

The tropical island destination boasts over 130 resorts throughout the archipelago. But the decision to place ballot boxes in a mere seven resorts would deny a lot of local resort employees the right to vote.

Main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) expressed concern over the decision saying that it would rob thousands of resort staff of their constitutional right to vote.

Religiously conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) in a statement also condemned the move adding that 10 percent of the country's population could be denied the right to vote.

Adhaalath said the labour force as tax paying citizens remains a significant part of the economy which must warrant a say in the country's future.

The last presidential elections in 2013 saw ballot boxes placed in 40 different resorts. As most resorts would be unable to allow their local employees to travel to neighbouring islands on election day, it would prevent hundreds from voting, a young man working on a resort told AVAS on condition of anonymity.

"I know it's not possible to place ballot boxes in every resort. But there are many resorts with a lot of local employees. But most of them might not get release to travel to neighbouring islands to vote," the resort worker added.

Former Attorney General (AG) Husnu Suood urged the public to protest against the decision.

For the last presidential elections, the Elections Commission had placed ballot boxes in resorts with 50 local staff. But this year, the commission had increased the number to 250.

The commission had said a total 452 ballot boxes would be placed for the crunch elections in September.

The commission meanwhile had announced that the crunch elections would be held on September 23 while it would open the elections for interested candidates from July 15.

Incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom is seeking re-election amid unprecedented political strife in the archipelago.

Former home minister Umar Naseer has also announced his intention to stand for the elections and already launched his campaign as an independent candidate.

The opposition has now selected veteran opposition lawmaker Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to lead the opposition alliance in the crunch elections after self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed forfeited his presidential ticket.

MDP during its extraordinary congress amended its charter to award the party ticket to Solih after Nasheed pulled out of the September elections after the country's electoral watchdog rejected his candidacy citing his terrorism conviction.

Nasheed's refusal to back-down earlier had threatened to destroy the once unimaginable alliance he had formed with former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and the other two opposition party leaders - Gasim Ibrahim and Sheikh Imran Abdulla.

But Nasheed's sudden withdrawal, has now united the once divided opposition and have finally agreed on nominating a single candidate for the upcoming presidential elections.

Hours after Nasheed's withdrawal, the four leaders in a joint statement said the opposition have now reached an agreement to join forces against incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

Gasim's Jumhoory Party (JP) along with Imran's religiously conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) have already come out in support of Solih as the opposition alliance candidate for the elections.

According to the long awaited opposition agreement, the presidential candidate would be Solih while JP has nominated lawmaker Faisal Naseem as his running mate.