The presidential runoff was organised in an efficient and professional manner, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to the Maldives has said in its preliminary statement regarding the organisation and execution of vote proceedings. There was increased transparency in election administration thus fostering public trust and credibility in the process, the observer mission recorded.

EU EOM noted key competencies of the Elections Commission (EC), including intensified engagement with political parties through meetings of the National Advisory Committee (NAC) and the election body’s decisions to address key areas of criticism from the first round, as well as efforts towards refresher training for polling staff and increased voter education activities to ensure a good knowledge of, and adherence to, polling procedures.

The mission also noted that, during the interval between the two rounds, the campaign was quiet but competitive, and focused heavily on personal voter outreach. Political freedoms of candidates and supporters were largely respected, according to the EU EOM.

However, the observers noted that polling stations were not all independently accessible to persons with reduced mobility, while alternatively highlighting the inclusion of people with visual impairments, who were able to vote independently.

While not overly critical of the timing of The Democrats’ proposed referendum on the system of government – with their support for either candidate contingent upon support for a referendum and with parliament instructing EC to conduct a referendum in late October – the EU EOM observed that the substance of the referendum did not become a campaign issue.

The mission also noted that state media continued to allocate more time to the incumbent and that while campaigning on social media platforms increased significantly, so did disinformation. Both candidates continued to make lavish financial pledges, the mission observed, often directed towards the individual benefit of voters, while voters expressed dissatisfaction with empty promises and, widely, revealed offers of vote buying which may have unduly influenced the free choice of the electorate.

Public Service Media (PSM) offered free airtime equally to candidates during prime time, however continued to blur the boundaries between governmental functions and the campaign activities of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih – PSM News granted him close to 30 percent more coverage over opponent and eventual President-Elect Mohamed Muizzu, the mission highlighted.

Private TV channels continued to exhibit political bias according to their alignment with various political parties and there was a significant rise in divisive discourse on social media platforms disseminating both genuine and misleading information from social media influencers and one online media outlet, Dhiyares, the EU EOM said. It also pointed out that the digital space was rife with dubious polls, accusations of ID card falsification in the context of re-registration, and narratives about religion.

Overly restrictive instructions on the determination of invalid votes increased the number of votes rejected, disregarding some clearly expressed intention of voters, the European observers noted.

The EU EOM also noted that no woman has been appointed to the EC since it was established in 2008 – while women served as at least 70 percent of polling station staff yet did not hold any significant authority in an equivalent proportion within the election administration. Women did however play a role in the campaign, with the wives of the candidates participating in voter engagement activities, the EU EOM observed.

Overwhelmingly, election day was assessed positively, the observer mission. Opening, voting and counting procedures were generally followed in polling stations and polling staff performed in a professional and efficient manner while the secrecy of the vote appeared to be well protected, the EU EOM said.