Maldives court rejects Yameen's secret witnesses

Maldives court rejects Yameen's secret witnesses

Maldives President-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih at Velana International Airport in Male on October 4, 2018. AFP

The Maldives' top court rejected on Tuesday three "secret" witnesses offered by President Abdulla Yameen in his petition to have his September election defeat annulled, in what is likely a major blow to his case.

The refusal came as the Supreme Court concluded its hearings, which also saw Yameen allege disappearing ink was used on ballot papers, and said it would deliver its verdict at an unspecified later date.

Lawyers for Yameen, who was beaten in the election despite all his main rivals being in prison or in exile, had said the three unnamed witnesses would reveal how the vote was rigged.

The country's independent Elections Commission (EC) through its lawyers argued Yameen's petition was based on false allegations and should be dismissed.

Local media also reported four of the five election commissioners have fled the country and sought refuge in neighbouring Sri Lanka following death threats after Yameen lost the election.

Despite Yameen's main competitors being out of the way and the media in his pocket, he was beaten by Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the joint candidate of the beleaguered opposition.

Under pressure from abroad, Yameen initially conceded defeat and said he would stand down on November 17, but then last week filed his petition -- and despite the threat of sanctions.

Yameen's lawyer Mohamed Saleem told the court that the printer of ballot papers of coating them with an unnamed substance that made votes marked in Yameen's box disappear.

Saleem said a "special pen with disappearing ink" was also given to people who were going to vote for his client.

Counting officials also allegedly carried secret pens, in the form of rings on their fingers, which they used to mark ballots for the opposition.

Opposition lawyer Hisan Hussain said the entire challenge was based on "pure conspiracy theories".

"Pen rings and disappearing ink are fanciful. The only thing missing from the case are magic carpets," she told reporters after the hearing concluded. She insisted that Yameen had not presented any "real evidence" to back his claims of vote rigging and fraud.

Ahead of the court hearing in the capital Male, the United States had warned "appropriate measures" would be taken if the will of the Maldivian people was undermined.

Europe and India have also issued similar warnings in the past.

The US and its allies have been concerned by growing Chinese influence in the strategically positioned Indian Ocean archipelago, especially under Yameen's authoritarian rule.

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