COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The Maldives government has rejected international criticism of its judiciary after it sacked the country's top election officials amid a political crisis.
A statement from the president's office said Wednesday that criticism from the United States, Australia and the United Nations amounted to undermining the Maldives' Constitution and the process of strengthening democracy.
The Maldives' Supreme Court removed Elections Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek and handed him a six-moth jail term, suspended for three years, on charges of contempt of court. His deputy, Ahmed Fayaz, was fired without a jail term. The decision came after months of conflict between the Elections Commission and the judiciary, after Thowfeek spoke out against the controversial conduct of the Supreme Court during last year's presidential elections.
President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, a brother of the country's 30-year autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, defeated Mohamed Nasheed, who led the struggle for democracy and was elected president in the country's first multiparty election in 2008.
The U.S., Australia and the U.N. criticized the Supreme Court's decision and questioned the Indian Ocean archipelago's commitment to democracy. U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki described the order as an "unprecedented expansion of judicial powers."
The Australian Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka, which covers the Maldives, said in a statement that it was "crucially important" that civil institutions are able to function "independently, free from interference, and in accordance with the principle of separation of powers."
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a statement praised the sacked officials for their professionalism and "tireless efforts to hold credible and transparent elections."
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.