‘Police were concerned that they would be breaking the law’
Under siege by the international community for failing to hold the re-scheduled first round of Presidential polls on Saturday, Maldivian President Mohamed Waheed said that it was “in the interest of the country that an election was not forced” on it.
In an exclusive interview with The Hindu, Mr. Waheed admitted that the National Security Council had met on Friday night, where the police chief expressed his concern: unless the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court were followed, they would be breaking the law. “They were reluctant to provide support to a process that was boycotted by two out of the three candidates. At that point we decided that it was not in the interest of the country to force an election because holding the election will also mean we will have to get the police and the armed forces on the streets so that election can be carried out while there are protests by the opposition. This is the situation we faced.”
Asked if he specifically asked the police to stop polling using force, he made a fine distinction between upholding the Supreme Court guidelines, and stopping the poll process: “The NSC backed the police request but [this was] not to stop the elections. The decision what we supported was that they would not provide security support unless the conditions have been met. But they were not told that they should stop the elections.”
So did police overreach its mandate in holding the Elections Commission officials hostage early on Saturday morning? “Clearly the police also felt that they were also breaking the law if they went ahead. And we believe that in the greater interest of peace and security, it is important for us to have better consensus among the candidates and the institutions so that we can have a peaceful election,” he said.
Mr. Waheed said he had stayed away from leading the poll process since he was candidate in the first round. “Until now I was in the backseat. Now, I feel I have to give more direction and help the process,” he said, and added that a new President will be elected and he will take office by November 11. He would work to make the poll process free, fair and inclusive. He said that he would be able to convince all candidates to agree. If they did not, he said he would use the resignation card: “I will tell them I will resign, and then, so will the Vice-President. After that, the responsibility will fall on the Speaker [to assume office as President as per the Maldivian Constitution].”
Asked if he will stay on after November 11 in a scenario where the elections have not been held, he said: “I am not comfortable to stay on. It would be my preference that there be an elected President. And it would also be my preference that if this is not possible, then there would be some other arrangement made.”
Insisting that the Supreme Court guidelines were to improve the poll process, he said the Elections Commission’s position was that the deadline was more important than the process. “The candidates are saying the process is equally important. We are in a debate of whether the means are more important or the end,” he said.
Asked if he was satisfied with the ‘holding operation’ that he had carried out in the past year and a half, he said he was. “We have maintained relative stability and peace in the country as a result the economy has been growing steadily. We have been providing all services to the people. We have not had any closure — schools or hospitals or airports,” he said.