While the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) has lauded the overall conduct of the first round of the Maldives presidential elections as “well-handled and competitive,” it has raised serious concerns about the laxity of campaign finance regulations in the country. In its preliminary statement, the EU EOM spotlighted campaign finance as a significant area in need of reform for future electoral fairness.

According to the EU EOM, Maldivian campaign finance regulations are only lightly enforced, contributing to a lack of transparency in the financial dealings of electoral campaigns. The Elections Commission of Maldives (ECM) is responsible for auditing campaign finance reports, but the commission lacks the necessary resources to exercise this role effectively. This has led to increased scrutiny of the democratic integrity of the electoral process.

Of particular concern is the extremely high spending limit set for campaigns, which stands at an eye-watering 560 million Maldivian rufiyaa (approximately €33.5 million). This cap has the potential to disproportionately influence the electoral process and undermine its democratic underpinnings, according to the EU EOM.

While the electoral campaign was generally peaceful and conducted in adherence to fundamental freedoms, the EU EOM report noted that allegations of the misuse of state resources for campaigning, especially through state-owned enterprises, were frequent. Such allegations, coupled with the weaknesses in campaign finance oversight, compound concerns over the equity of the electoral playing field.

The EU EOM preliminary statement came as part of a wider review of the electoral process in the Maldives, highlighting various aspects including candidate registration, media coverage, and the inclusivity of voter registration. However, the campaign finance aspect stood out as a particular point of concern, underscoring the need for reforms to fortify the democratic process in the country.

The EU EOM, led by Chief Observer Nacho Sánchez Amor, will remain in the Maldives to observe the second round of elections. A comprehensive report, including detailed recommendations for electoral reform—particularly concerning campaign finances—will be released within two months of the conclusion of the electoral process.