MALE - The Supreme Court in the Maldives has sacked the country’s elections chief and handed him a suspended jail term after he criticised judges during last year’s chaotic contest to choose a president.
Less than a fortnight before parliamentary elections are due, Chief Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek and his deputy Ahmed Fayaz were dismissed for “disobeying and challenging” orders issued by the court in its role as “guardian of the constitution”. Thowfeek was given a six-month prison sentence, which was suspended for three years, in a decision read out in court late on Sunday. The ruling has reopened the controversy over last year’s election on the honeymoon islands, when judges annulled the results of a first round won by former president Mohamed Nasheed, and then cancelled two other polls at the last minute. Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) criticised the court’s move as ridiculous, and would now meet to decide whether to boycott the March 22 parliamentary elections.
“We think this (court) decision is completely ridiculous,” MDP youth wing leader Shauna Aminath told AFP. “Our candidates and party seniors will meet today or tomorrow to decide what we are going to do about the elections.” Nasheed eventually lost last year’s presidential elections to the half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the former strongman who ruled the Indian Ocean archipelago for 30 years. Abdulla Yameen won the November 16 presidential vote.
Gayoom appointed most of the current judiciary before being defeated by Nasheed in the islands’ first democratic polls in 2008 and foreign diplomats regarded the delays last year as a politically-motivated ploy to prevent Nasheed’s return to power.
Thowfeek told the private Minivan News website that he had been punished for discussing the “practical difficulties” of following court guidelines.
Thowfeek said he doubted whether the March 22 elections could take place as scheduled given the removal of the main organisers.
The judgement said the elections chief had been “publicly critical of the Supreme Court verdict issued to ensure the election is held in a peaceful environment” last year.
The Maldives, better known for its upmarket tourism, had been hit by political instability since Nasheed was forced to step down in February 2012 in what he says was a military-backed coup orchestrated by Gayoom loyalists.