Four Mal­dives’ election of­fi­cials flee to Sri Lanka, cit­ing threats

Times of Oman - - WORLD -

COLOMBO: In­tim­i­da­tion and threats drove four mem­bers of an election panel in the Mal­dives to flee the is­land na­tion, two of­fi­cials said on Satur­day, a day be­fore its top court hears de­feated pres­i­dent Ab­dulla Yameen’s chal­lenge to his election loss last month.

The tourist par­adise has been in po­lit­i­cal up­heaval since Fe­bru­ary, when a state of emer­gency was im­posed by Yameen, who ran the In­dian Ocean is­lands with an iron hand, crit­ics say, jail­ing po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents and Supreme Court jus­tices.

Since Yameen lost his bid for re­elec­tion, the op­po­si­tion has been try­ing to se­cure a smooth tran­si­tion of power, due on Novem­ber 17.

Four mem­bers of the Mal­dives Elec­tions Com­mis­sion have fled and three are in the Sri Lankan cap­i­tal of Colombo, leav­ing be­hind just one panel mem­ber, two of the Mal­di­vian of­fi­cials told Reuters on con­di­tion of anonymity.

“We left due to threats,” said one, who asked not be iden­ti­fied, for fear of a risk to his life.

Yameen’s party dis­missed the threat ac­cu­sa­tions, say­ing the election of­fi­cials left be­cause of pub­lic out­rage sparked by the leak of an au­dio record­ing about poll rig­ging. “So they say,” Mo­hamed Hus­sain Sha­reef, sec­re­tary gen­eral of the Pro­gres­sive Party of Mal­dives (PPM), told Reuters.

“When in fact they left be­cause of pub­lic out­rage fol­low­ing a leaked au­dio about rig­ging. They are re­fus­ing to clar­ify.”

The of­fi­cials’ ac­cu­sa­tions fol­low do­mes­tic me­dia re­ports of a com­plaint to po­lice by the com­pany that printed the bal­lots, say­ing the PPM sought to bribe its em­ploy­ees to pro­vide false state­ments that backed Yameen’s chal­lenge.

Yameen’s party called the com­plaint “lu­di­crous”, say­ing it was a tac­tic to di­vert at­ten­tion from the court case.

Con­ceded de­feat

Yameen con­ceded de­feat in last month’s election af­ter an of­fi­cial count showed joint op­po­si­tion leader Ibrahim Mo­hamed Solih had polled 16.8 per cent more votes in a sur­prise re­sult.

The Election Com­mis­sion said the vote had been free and fair, with turnout of 89.2 per cent.

But on Wed­nes­day, his lawyers ap­proached the Supreme Court, say­ing sup­port­ers had com­plained about rig­ging of votes and fraud­u­lent bal­lot pa­pers. With its lo­ca­tion near key ship­ping lanes, the Mal­dives has be­come im­por­tant as China and In­dia com­pete for re­gional in­flu­ence. China is build­ing up the is­lands’ in­fra­struc­ture in its Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive to boost trade and trans­port links across Asia.

- Reuters file

PO­LIT­I­CAL CRI­SIS: Mal­di­vians travel on the China-funded Si­na­male bridge in Male, Mal­dives.

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