The European Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) has raised significant concerns over the transparency and oversight of campaign finance in the Maldives, particularly highlighting the impact of vote-buying on democracy.

Lack of Transparency and Oversight in Campaign Finance

The EU EOM’s report reveals that campaign finance in the Maldives suffers from a lack of transparency and accountability. The legal framework governing campaign finance is dispersed across multiple legal instruments, including the Elections (General) Act (EGA), the Political Parties Act (PPA), and the Presidential Election Act (PEA). This dispersion creates gaps and imprecision, leading to a lack of clarity for stakeholders.

Sources and Limits of Campaign Funds

Political parties in the Maldives can obtain funds from various sources, including members, business transactions, fundraising activities, loans, and government funding. The provision for public funding of parties with over 10,000 members creates a competitive environment for membership recruitment. Candidates are allowed to receive donations and loans from individuals and legal entities but face restrictions from the state or companies in which the state is a shareholder.

Concerns Over Spending and Accountability

The EU EOM notes that the spending of political parties on presidential campaigns is not sufficiently regulated and accounted for. The overall campaign expenditure is capped at MVR 2,000 per eligible voter, amounting to approximately 564.79 million rufiyaa (€33.5 million). This ceiling is considered unreasonably high by many, potentially distorting the democratic process.

Inadequate Penalties and Enforcement

The financial penalties for overspending and failures in reporting are minor and have not been effectively enforced. Although the law provides for imprisonment upon conviction for financial offences, this has not been a significant deterrent, the EU EOM report said.

Recommendations for Campaign Finance Reform

The EU EOM recommends revising and closing gaps in the legal framework regulating campaign finance. This includes clarifying the institutional responsibility for campaign finance oversight and enforcement. The report suggests that the Elections Commission of Maldives (ECM) should be strengthened with increased capacity and resources to effectively oversee and enforce campaign finance regulations.

Vote-Buying and Civic Education

A major concern highlighted in the report is the practice of vote-buying, which undermines the integrity of the electoral process. To combat this, the EU EOM recommends developing a comprehensive and continuous civic and voter education programme nationwide. This programme should focus on political rights, freedom of choice in voting, and the detrimental impact of vote-buying on democracy.

Urgent Need for Reform

The EU EOM’s findings and recommendations underscore the urgent need for reforms in campaign finance regulation and oversight in the Maldives. Addressing the issues of transparency, accountability, and vote-buying is critical to safeguarding the integrity of the democratic process and ensuring that elections are a genuine reflection of the people’s will.