Maldives in Election Mode
Akash Sahu

The Republic of Maldives announced its elections date to be 23rd of September, 2018. The pre-election period is being observed by nations and international organisation. Crisis erupted in the atoll nation in February this year, when the President declared emergency. Events prior to the election also set the tone for the conduct of the new administration that will come in the month of November. Ahmed Shareef, the Election Commissioner, conveyed that the final candidate list will be out by 18th August, 2018 and the campaigning will begin from that day to the 23rd of September, 2018.1 Ibrahim Mohammed Solih is declared as the presidential candidate by the joint opposition. Elections in the country, like any other, are characterised by an upheaval of public sentiment and energies of political parties and pressure groups are invested in garnering more votes.

European Union and India on the Conduct of Elections

A number of parties in and out of Maldives are concerned with the process of elections that will follow in the coming months. The European Union has conveyed that Maldivian politics is devoid of a level playing field, which prevents political opposition to develop, flourish and garner votes in the election. The former Vice-President of Maldives, Dr. Mohammed Jameel was a part of the European Parliamentary Session held in Strasbourg, France. A general opinion among the Members of European Parliament (MEPs) was that since almost all the political opponents of the current President in Maldives are in exile, it is unlikely that outcome of the election would be called fair. In a legislation drafted and passed by the Majlis a few days back, the Parliament has barred people in exile from contesting elections for the next ten years. It also applies to those who have given up their citizenship.2 Political opponents of the current President have described it as a deliberate move to prevent a real competition in the elections by the present Government.

Some advocated the imposition of sanctions to bring Male back to track while other MEPs, like Nicholas Bay and Younous Omarjee, highlighted that the current President’s closeness to some Islamist groups that have a radical outlook, can prove to be problematic if the same party forms government post the elections. They feel that the region is a victim of terrorism and radicalisation.3 The representative for the European Institution for Civil Society, Malosse, spoke of the increasing Chinese footprint in the region. On the same lines, Dr. Jameel accused the present Government for having sold a number of Maldivian islands to China for reasons of infrastructure building and establishing a military base. He blamed the President for indulging in corruption over such projects.

India’s relations with Maldives have nosedived since India’s expression of consternation to the imposition of emergency in February. An apparent rivalry between India and China over their relationships with the Maldives has worsened the bilateral relations. India has expressed concern with the way elections have been announced whence crucial institutions, like the Majlis (Parliament) and the Judiciary, suffer from lack of proper functioning. They are also under the questionable influence of the present Government. Raveesh Kumar, the spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, said that the lack of transparency in such institutions is a matter of concern for India.4 He also added that ‘return to the path of democracy’ and ‘restoration of political processes and the rule of law’, must take place before the elections are held in the country.5 The authoritarian style of governance of the current President is worrisome to India and other nations. In the area of defense cooperation too, it seems India and Maldives aren’t doing very great. Male had asked India to remove its helicopters from its atolls by 30th of June 2018, which hasn’t been done since New Delhi is believed to be engaging with Male on that issue. The apparent ban on Indian workers in Maldives has also led to animosity between the two governments.6

Tampering in the Majlis

The law that was passed to prevent persons in exile from contesting elections was allegedly pushed through without fulfillment of the quorum in the Majlis. Again, in a move that undermines democratic spirit, ten Members of Parliament (MP) lost their seats from the Parliament. They were prevented from entering the house by police forces.7 This was, however, not the first time that disqualification of MPs was used to further specific agendas in the House. Earlier this year, several MPs were disqualified for various reasons, the underlining of which was that they supported the opposition. The Majlis has now cleared a decision to change the schedule for sessions of the House. The recess date for the Parliament has been brought to 16th August, while the new session commences on 27th of August; it was scheduled to begin in October, which would have been after the elections. The House witnessed the attendance of 26 MPs out of the strength of 85 when that decision was passed without any opposition. Taking a dig at this move, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Eva Abdulla said that this move will allow the present Government to make more changes right before the conduct of elections.

Use of State Power

The lead opposition party MDP made its manifesto public at a Party Congress on the 30th of June. Jumhooree Party and Adalaath Party also presented their manifestos and work was started on the preparation of a joint manifesto. The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), however, hasn’t yet come out with a manifesto.8 In a surprising speech, the deputy leader of the PPM, Abdul Raheem Abdulla, said that the Government will make complete use of state resources and its employees in the campaign for the upcoming elections. This was in response to an allegation against PPM for abusing the state resources. He described the employees at public offices as having been appointed by his political party; many of the employees have expressed worries over being pressurised into working for the party’s political campaign. The opposition has approached the Election Commission and Anti-Corruption Commission to look into the matter; none however have announced any investigation of the same.9

Question on the Commission

The Election Commission has cited complaints of fraud with registration of voters, further leading to re-registration of the voters. This has been described by the opposition, particularly by the spokesperson of the joint opposition MP Ahmed Mahloof, as a move to confuse the general public, who will never be able to re-register on time before the voting day.10 Senior officials from the MDP met with a delegation from the United Nations in Male regarding the actions of the Government. The re-registration concerns were brought to the fore. Additionally, the independence of the Election Commission was put in question since the new head of the Commission appointed in May, 2018, Ahmed Shareef, was an active part of the current President’s election campaign before his appointment. On the same issue, former president Nasheed has asked for an election commission that can be trusted by the people.11 The opposition has claimed that they have registered in largest number for the elections. However, it alleges that the applications are being sent to police offices for fingerprint verification where a good portion of them will be rejected. 12

Social Media and the Ballot Box Furore

The Election Commission of Maldives came up with a new rule in the process of elections for 2018, wherein only the resorts with more than 250 Maldivian registered citizens can have a ballot box. This number had been 100 till the last elections. It must be noted that Maldives is a group of several islands, and a number of resorts are spread over these islands since tourism is the main stay of the nation. The new rule would force the citizens to go to a nearby island and register there. Therefore, it will strip many citizens of the right to vote as the commute would not be practical on the voting day. The Tourism Employees Association of the country has alleged that this was a conscious attempt by the Commission to reduce the number of voters in the election. Following a rejection of the rule in public discourse, a furore broke out in the social media strongly reacting against it. There are 27,837 Maldivians working in the resorts which form almost 14 percent of the working population. 13 A considerable portion of the citizens as this could not be ignored. Several tweets quoting this new rule and stressing the right to vote emerged from the public. Former Attorney General Husnu Al Suood decided to sue the Commission for behaving in a manner that stops a section of population from exercising their right to vote. The anger from the civil society, Non-Governmental Organisation (NGOs) and political parties against the Commission’s decision grew so much in magnitude that the decision to keep ballot boxes in only seven resorts was The reversal was a small victory for the democratic peoples of the Maldives. It is yet to be seen what public mandate for the present Government emerges after the election.

Hopeful Opposition

The former president Mohamed Nasheed pulled out of the race for president in the 2018 elections, but he continues to be positive about a new government to come in place of the present. According to his prediction of the election, the opposition will win around seventy percent of the votes in the country. Ibrahim Mohammed Solih, the joint opposition’s presidential candidate, in his speech at a campaign event has promised to the people of Maldives that he would bring change to the law concerned with foreign ownership of land in Maldives. It is noteworthy that the law was brought in by the present Government and attracted a lot of speculation related to China buying land in Maldives through this law.

The time is very crucial for Maldivians to realise that these elections and the triumphant party would play a major role in several legislations to come and in addressing welfare of the people in the country. A free and fair election is thus desired.

End Notes:
  1. Maldives Independent, Maldives electoral body delays presidential candidate applications; 12th July, 2018

  2. Livemint, Elizabeth Roche, Return to democracy, India urges Maldives; 5th July, 2018
  3. Business Standard, ANI, EU expresses concern at lack of level playing field in Maldives; 6th July, 2018
  4. TheQuint, India closely following Maldives situation: MEA; 5th July, 2018
  5. Maldives Independent, Return to democratic path’ before polls, India urges Maldives; 6th July, 2018
  6. The Times of India, TNN, Maldives remains evasive on deployment of Indian maritime surveillance aircraft; 6th July, 2018
  7. Maldives Independent, MPs barred entry as Maldives parliament shortens term; 2nd August, 2018
  8., Zunana Zalif, 57 days to elections, PPM yet to release manifesto; 28th July, 2018
  9., Aishath Shany, Maldives governing party plans to 'use all state employees and resources' to ensure election win; 25th July, 2018
  10. Maldives Independent, Maldives election body to verify voter registration after complaints of fraud; 29th July, 2018
  11., Aishath Shany, Maldives' ex-president calls to establish a 'new' Elections Commission, 31st July, 2018
  12. Maldives Independent, Maldives voter registration controversy escalates; 3rd August, 2018
  13. Maldives Independent, Maldives electoral body ‘denying’ votes to local resort workers; 16th July, 2018
  14. Maldives Independent, Resort ballot box U-turn from Maldives election body; 19th July, 2018

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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