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Sunday, August 01, 2004

Report of the Observer Group of Eminent persons (OGEP)

Elections to the People’s Special Majlis of the Republic of Maldives

28 May 2004

 

CHAPTER ONE

Introduction

 

The Commissioner of Elections of the Republic of Maldives invited one person each from six South Asian countries, which are fellow members of SAARC, to act as Observers for the Elections to the People’s Special Majlis to be held on Friday 28th May 2004. These persons drawn from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka arrived in Malé by 27 May 2004 in response to this invitation. The Group was designated by the hosts as “The Observer Group of Eminent Persons” (OGEP). The names and short bio-data of the Observers are given in Annexure I.

 

The invitation sent to the Observers set out their Terms of Reference as follows.

 

“The Observer Group of Eminent Persons (OGEP) shall observe all aspects of the organization and conduct of the People’s Special Majlis Election, including the campaign and polling arrangements, the casting of votes, the closure of voting, the counting of ballots and the declaration of the results, in order to ascertain whether the election has been free and fair and in accordance with the relevant laws and regulations of the Maldives. Before its departure, the OGEP shall submit to the Commissioner of Elections a report on the election, containing such conclusions and recommendations as it might wish to make.”

 

 

The Observers were invited in their individual capacity and not as representatives of their governments. The Group unanimously elected Lyonpo Dawa Tsering as its Chairman.

 

This was the fifth time in the seventy five years of elections in the Maldives when foreign observers were invited to observe elections in this country. The first time such an Observer Group from South Asian countries came to Maldives for this purpose was in 1994, when the 14th General Elections of the Citizen’s Majlis was held in December that year.

 

Upon arrival the Observers met the Commissioner of Elections who presented them with the Terms of Reference and briefed them on all other arrangements made to ensure a free and fair conduct of elections as well as acquainted them with the laws and regulations related to the conduct of the Elections to the People’s Special Majlis.

 

 

Geographical Location, Population and brief History

 

The Maldives have 1190 islands which are visible points of a great submarine ridge extending into the Indian Ocean. The archipelago extends from 7 degrees North to just beyond the equator. These islands are formed into 24 natural Atolls and are divided into 20 Atolls as administrative units of the Republic. Malé as the capital of the Republic is a distinct administrative unit. Out of 1190 islands only 199 are inhabited. There are also 87 “tourist resort” islands. 90% of the inhabited islands have a population of less than 1000. Only four islands have a population of more than 4000. The capital Malé has the largest population which is more than 74,000 at present.

 

The country’s total population is 270,101 (2000 Census) with an average growth rate of 1.9%. The entire population of Maldives is Muslim (Sunni). The religion of the state is Islam.

 

The literacy rate is 98%. The major economic activities of the country are tourism and fisheries.

 

Maldives has a rich history. Islam was officially declared the state religion in 1153. During the 800 years that passed since the people embraced Islam all the powers of the state were vested in the monarchy of the country. In 1558 Maldives were conquered by the Portuguese in their quest for supremacy of the sea. After 15 years of the Portuguese occupation, the Maldives was liberated by one of the Sultans.

 

The Dutch who held neighbouring Sri Lanka surveyed the islands of the Maldives in 1671 but never tried to invade. As British influence spread throughout the Indian Ocean the Sultans of Maldives maintained cordial relations with the British allowing them to survey the islands in 1834. The Sultans of Maldives while acknowledging the influence of the British over the Indian Ocean kept the British at bay. The Statehood of the Maldives was recognized and the British had no power to interfere with the Maldives internal affairs although they did control its external affairs and regarded the Maldives as a Protectorate until it attained independence in 1965.

 

CHAPTER TWO

Procedure for the Elections to the People’s Special Majlis

 

According to Article 94 of the Constitution of the Republic of Maldives, the power to make or amend the Constitution is vested in a People’s Special Majlis that is constituted under the direction of the President of the Republic.

 

The present Constitution of the country has been in force since 1 January 1998. 

 

During the Presidential Address at the State Opening of the People’s Majlis for the year 2004 on 26th February, His Excellency Mr. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, President of the Republic of Maldives, said that he has decided to convene the People’s Special Majlis in order to further consolidate democratic governance of the country and the fundamental rights of the people.

 

Later, he briefed the Cabinet on the work he was carrying out in formulating the Constitutional amendments that he plans to submit to the People’s Special Majlis.  The President pointed out that the proposed amendments will widen avenues for greater participation of the people, enhance checks and balances, increase decentralization, reinforce democratic institutions, strengthen the judiciary, and sustain peace, social harmony and national productivity.


The President said that the proposals were being formulated on the basis of the aspirations outlined in the Maldives Vision 2020 and on the views communicated by the people during the intensive discussions on national reform that he undertook with people of all walks of life in recent months, as well as the proposals submitted to him in response to his call to the people last year to submit to him their ideas and suggestions on expediting national progress and reform.

 

Ministers recalled the scope and scale of constitutional reform that had been implemented at the President’s initiative over the last 25 years, and noted that significant measures had already been implemented by the President in recent months in order to strengthen respect for human rights and civil liberties and modernize the criminal justice system and the penal system.

 

Maldives Vision 2020 was declared in July 1999, and the paper on strategies to attain Vision 2020 was published in October 2002, after intensive nationwide consultations.

 

According to the Constitution, the People’s Special Majlis shall consist of:

 

members of the Cabinet of Ministers;

members of the People’s Majlis;

members elected from Male' and the Atolls in accordance with law.  Members elected from each constituency shall be equal in number to the members elected to the People’s Majlis from each constituency; and

eight members appointed by the President.

 

The qualifications for membership of the People’s Special Majlis are the same qualifications required for membership of the People’s Majlis as stipulated under the Constitution.  In this regard, a person shall be qualified if he –

 

is a Muslim;

is a citizen of the Republic of Maldives;

has attained twenty-five years of age;

is of sound mind;

is capable of reading and writing Arabic and Dhivehi script and numerals;

has not, during the past five years, been convicted of an offence for which a hadd is prescribed in Islam or of criminal breach of trust; and

is not a citizen of a foreign country.

 

On 11 March 2004, the Commissioner of Elections made a public notification inviting applications to become candidates in the elections of members of the People’s Special Majlis.  On 28 April 2004, the Commissioner had announced the names of the candidates in the elections of the People’s Special Majlis. A total of 126 applications were filed, of which three had withdrawn their candidatures.

 

The two persons who had applied to become candidates in the North Nilandhe Atoll were declared elected uncontested as the number of candidates meets the number of members required to be elected from that constituency.

 

CHAPTER THREE

Observations of the OGEP

 

The Observers were able to see polling of votes in Male' at most of the polling stations. In the Atolls the Observers were able to watch polling in a large number of polling stations as listed in Annexure II.

 

All polling stations opened punctually at the appointed time. Many of the polling stations remained open even beyond the closing time to enable the voters who had assembled inside the designated area to cast their vote.

 

The polls were conducted in a peaceful, orderly and transparent manner. Voters both male and female waited patiently in the same queue for their turn to vote.

 

The name of each voter was carefully checked with the Voters List provided to each polling station by the Commissioner of Elections.

 

No police or security personnel were visible in and around the polling stations.

 

Meticulous arrangements were made by the Commissioner of Elections for counting the votes.

 

The voters behaved in a dignified manner as befitting the solemnity of the occasion and they waited patiently to cast their vote.

 

 

 

Based on their observations the Observers were of the unanimous view that the election was transparently free and fair and held in accordance with the relevant laws and regulations. The Observers were fully satisfied with the credibility of the election process.


 

Acknowledgements

Many government institutions and officials extended valuable support to the performance of our mission.

 

In particular, we wish to record our appreciation to the Commissioner of Elections for the excellent arrangements made for the Observer Group to observe the polling. Arrangements made for our travel to the Atoll headquarters and to the islands in which the polling stations were located. We were able to observe whatever aspects of the election process we wished and visit whatever locations we desired.

 

All government officials whom we met, Atoll Chiefs, Island Chiefs and our Liaison Officers, Protocol and Secretarial Staff extended to us their full co-operation and assistance so that we were able to accomplish our task effectively.

 

The polls were conducted in a peaceful and orderly manner. The voters treated it as a solemn occasion and men and women waited patiently to cast their vote.

 

The election staff were experienced and well trained. They performed their duties efficiently and rendered all help and assistance to the voters.

 

The secrecy of the ballot was maintained. There were no incidents of malpractice which came to the notice of the Observers.

 

We express to the Commissioner of Elections our thanks for the hospitality so graciously extended to us.

 

 

Above all, we would like to record our grateful thanks to the people of the Maldives for the friendly and warm manner in which they welcomed us to their beautiful country. We take this opportunity to wish them success in the laudable task of further promoting democracy in the Maldives.


Signatures:

Dr. Mohammed Farashuddin (Bangladesh)

Lyonpo Dawa Tsering (Bhutan)

Mr. Salman Haidar (India)

Mr. Y.K. Silwal (Nepal)

Mr. Niaz A. Naik (Pakistan)

Mr. Dixon Nilaweera (Sri Lanka)


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