The Maldives will hold presidential election polls in September, authorities announced late on Thursday, even as key Opposition leaders remain jailed or in exile.
Voters in the Indian Ocean archipelago will choose their next leader on September 23, the Election Commission has said, while dissidents accused the electoral watchdog of siding with President Abdulla Yameen, who is seeking re-election.
MDP primaries nulled
The development comes a week after members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) endorsed former President and their exiled leader Mohamed Nasheed as presidential candidate. In May, however, the Election Commission said candidates convicted of criminal charges were not eligible to contest, effectively barring Mr. Nasheed and other Opposition leaders from contesting.
“There are no fair, predefined rules that dictate how the election will be held. Instead, the EC and other institutions make up the rules as they go, such as trying to ban the MDP primary contest, to favour President Yameen,” Mr. Nasheed told The Hindu on Friday. Observing that there was no rule of law, or a clear framework for a free and fair election, he called for “a huge amount of concerted pressure” to help create a level-playing field in the troubled island nation.
In 2015, Mr. Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail following conviction on a terrorism charges that critics of President Yameen termed politically motivated. Mr. Nasheed has since been in exile, mostly in London and now in Colombo, and is reaching out to potential supporters in the island nation via Skype.
While the UN Human Rights Council, in April, urged authorities in Male to allow convicted Opposition leaders to contest elections, President Yameen has ignored the call, in an apparent attempt to retain power without a contest. A coalition of Opposition forces earlier vowed to challenge Mr. Yameen, but that might not resolve the problem, according to Mr. Nasheed. He accused the Election Commission of being “hopelessly politicised”, a charge that government authorities have denied in the past.
The announcement on election comes months after the Maldives experienced political unrest, sparked by a shock Supreme Court ruling in February, which overturned criminal convictions of nine dissident leaders, including Mr. Nasheed. Soon after, President Yameen imposed a 45-day Emergency, jailed the Chief Justice and another judge, as well as former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The other judges overturned the Supreme Court’s February order, in effect leaving the political situation back at square one.