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Maldives: UN Concerned Following Removal of Officials

(Mar. 31, 2014) United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern on March 10, 2014, about the decision of the Supreme Court of Maldives to oust the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Elections Commission and sentence the Chair for contempt of court. Ban emphasized “the importance of respect for the principle of separation of powers, the rule of law, and the independence of constitutionally established bodies.” (After Maldives High Court Removes Election Officials, Ban Urges Respect for Rule of Law, UN NEWS CENTRE (Mar. 10, 2014).)

The firing of the election officials followed critical remarks by the Chair, Fuwad Thowfeek, about how the Court handled presidential election disputes last year. It was reported that Thowfeek and his Vice-Chair Ahmed Fayaz were fired for “disobeying and challenging” orders from the Court. (Maldives’ Election Chief Sacked After Vote Chaos, THE JAKARTA GLOBE (Mar. 10, 2014).) On March 9, 2014, Thowfeek was sentenced to six months of imprisonment, with the sentence suspended for three years. (Id.) The sentencing occurred about two weeks before the March 22 parliamentary election, in which the ruling party won a majority of the seats. (Farah Ahmed, Ruling Coalition Secures Majority in Parliament, HAVEERU ONLINE (Mar. 23, 2014).)

Ban added to his remarks by stating that the Elections Commission should be commended for “its professionalism and tireless efforts to ensure credible and transparent elections,” and he urged all the leaders in the country to respect the democratic process for the upcoming polls. (After Maldives High Court Removes Election Officials, Ban Urges Respect for Rule of Law, supra.)

Background on the Controversial Election

The disputed presidential election was held last fall, beginning with an initial vote on September 7, 2013, and ending with a run-off contest on November 9. The September vote, in which a plurality of the votes went to former president Mohamed Nasheed, was annulled by the Supreme Court, after vote fraud was alleged. Several later dates for elections were set and cancelled before Yaamin Abdul Gayoom won the November contest. Gayoom is the half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was the President of Maldives from 1978-2008. In 2008, in the first multi-party election in the country, Nasheed defeated the incumbent, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Nasheed resigned in February 2012 in the wake of a controversy over his arrest of a senior judge, and the Vice-President took office. (Id.; Maldives’ Election Chief Sacked After Vote Chaos, supra; Maldives, ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA ACADEMIC EDITION (2014).)

Most of the current members of the judiciary had been appointed by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom before the 2008 polls. Some foreign observers have speculated that the postponing of the election dates last fall resulted from a desire to prevent Nasheed, who argues he was forced into resigning two years ago, from regaining power. (Maldives’ Election Chief Sacked After Vote Chaos, supra.)