Maldives top court begins final hearing on election challenge

Maldives top court on Tuesday began the final hearing of the legal challenge filed by incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom seeking to annul last month's presidential election.

Similar to the two previous hearings, dozens of both opposition and ruling party supporters queued up outside the Supreme Court hours before the hearing began at around 10.30am on Tuesday.

President Yameen had filed a legal challenge at the Supreme Court on Wednesday citing rigging and electoral fraud.

The case largely accused the Elections commission of using pens with disappearing ink while ballot papers had also been laced with a chemical that wiped votes for president Yameen.

During the second hearing on Monday, president Yameen's legal team had asked the Supreme Court to take the testimonies of the three witnesses in secret to protect them citing a threat to their lives.

Lawyers alleged that elections chief Ahmed Shareef had facilitated visa for an unnamed person who had flown to China to bring the 'pen rings' to the Maldives which was then used by election officials to secretly mark blank ballots during the counting process.

The Supreme Court was also told that the log of people entering and leaving the storage room where the ballot papers were kept was not properly maintained which proved that the elections commission had not tracked access to the ballot papers prior to the elections.

The five judge bench would make a decision on taking the testimonies of the witnesses in secret during the third and final hearing.

The decision would be key to the eventual outcome of the challenge as the testimonies of the three witnesses remain the only real evidence presented by president Yameen to back his claim of vote rigging.

Speaking during the second hearing on Monday, opposition alliance lawyer Hisan Hussain reiterated that the entire case was based on pure "conspiracy theories."

Hisan said claims such as pen rings and disappearing ink were fantastical and the only thing missing from the case was a "magic carpet."

She insisted that president Yameen had not presented a single shred of evidence to back his outrageous claims of vote rigging and fraud.

Yameen lost the September 23 election by a margin of 16 percent to opposition alliance candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, in an outcome hailed as a win for democracy in the crisis-hit archipelago.

The result was widely accepted, including by the United States, China, India, and the European Union.

Yameen conceded defeat a day after the election but had alleged widespread irregularities in the vote.