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US questions Maldives' commitment to democracy

Tuesday - 3/11/2014, 2:59am  ET

KRISHAN FRANCIS
Associated Press

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) -- The United States has criticized the highest court in the Maldives after it sacked the country's elections commissioner and gave him a suspended six-month jail term for contempt of court, throwing into doubt a parliamentary election set for this month.

The court also sacked the deputy commissioner but without a jail term.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki in a statement Monday called the trial of commissioners Fuwad Thowfeek and Ahmed Fayaz an "unprecedented expansion of judicial powers."

The verdict has thrown a parliamentary election set for March 22 into jeopardy, with only two members remaining on a five-member Elections Commission. A third member resigned earlier.

The two were fired Sunday after a months-long conflict between the judiciary and the Elections Commission over the Supreme Court's conduct in last year's presidential election in which President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, a brother of the Indian Ocean archipelago's former autocratic ruler, was elected.

The jail term for Thowfeek was suspended for three years.

"These actions represent an unprecedented expansion of judicial powers which undermines an independent democratic institution that had made laudable efforts to hold multiple, successful elections despite previous judicial interference," Psaki's statement said.

It said the Supreme Court's insistence on holding the election as scheduled March 22, after having sacked the official responsible for holding it, calls "into serious question the government's commitment to democracy."

Tension between the judiciary and the Elections Commission arose after Thowfeek spoke out against some controversial judgments by the Supreme Court pertaining to last November's presidential election runoff.

Gayoom, the brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who ruled the island nation for 30 years, won a narrow victory over Mohamed Nasheed, who led the struggle for democracy and was elected president in 2008 in the country's first multiparty election.

The results of a Sept. 7 first-round presidential election were annulled by the Supreme Court after another candidate complained that the voters' register contained made up names and those of dead people.

A widespread outcry erupted because local and international monitors had found the election to be free and fair. Nasheed led that vote but fell short of the 50 percent needed for an outright win. Police acting under a court order stopped a subsequent revote, and the delay gave Nasheed's opponents enough time to form a coalition and defeat him narrowly in a third attempt to hold the election.


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