The recent presidential election, marked by an unprecedented number of candidates, witnessed extravagant campaigns that included charter flights, speedboats, campaign yachts, and extensive rallies. However, when the Elections Commission (EC) recently published the financial disclosures of the eight candidates who contested the election, the expenditure figures presented a different story.

According to the financial statements released by the EC, the total campaign spending by the candidates amounted to MVR 69,188,675. Jumhooree Party (JP) candidate, Member of Parliament (MP) for Maamigili, Qasim Ibrahim and Maldives National Party candidate, MP for Dhangethi, Mohamed Nazim, emerged as the highest spenders. On the opposite end of the spectrum, independent candidate Hassan Zameel reported the lowest expenditure at just MVR 16,259.

Financial statements of President Dr Mohamed Muizzu, who won the election revealed a prudent approach in terms of campaign spending. He spent MVR 1,999,450 on his presidential campaign, but the records show he received MVR 2,115,000 in monetary donations, without committing any personal funds.

The non-monetary in-kind contributions he received amounted to MVR 21,344,367. Muizzu’s personal financial spendings stood at MVR 100,450, while he spent MVR 1,899,000 from monetary contributions on various campaign activities. His financial statements indicated that he spent a total of MVR 1,999,450, thereby saving MVR 115,000 from the financial donations received.

Muizzu secured victory in the presidential runoff election with 54 percent of the votes, defeating the incumbent candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

Excluding non-montary in-kind contributions, Jumhooree Party (JP) candidate Qasim Ibrahim was the highest spender, with a total expenditure of MVR 20,421,050. The Maldives National Party (MNP) candidate, Mohamed Nazim, rallied behind him, having spent MVR 13,075,900.

Former President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, representing the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), reported expenses of MVR 6,885,350. Independent candidate Faris Maumoon’s financial statement showed an expenditure of MVR 1,166,064, while the other independent candidate, Umar Naseer, reported spending MVR 285,950.

Despite the lavish campaign appearances, the financial disclosures present a contrasting image, raising questions about transparency and the true cost of presidential campaigns in the Maldives.

EU election observation mission’s call for campaign finance reforms

The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM), who praised the overall conduct of the elections as “well-handled and competitive”, voiced serious concerns over the lax enforcement of campaign finance regulations in the Maldives.

The EU EOM’s preliminary statement highlights campaign finance as an area in need of reform for future electoral fairness. Maldivian campaign finance regulations, according to the EU EOM, suffer from weak enforcement, leading to a lack of transparency in campaign finances.

They noted that while the EC is tasked with auditing campaign finance reports, it lacks the necessary resources for effective oversight. This lack of oversight raised doubts about the democratic integrity of the electoral process.

A significant concern was the extremely high campaign spending limit which has the potential to disproportionately influence the electoral process and compromise its democratic foundations.

Allegations of state resource misuse for campaigning, especially through state-owned enterprises, coupled with weak campaign finance oversight, have also been identified as a key issue.

During the second round of the election, the EU EOM observed issues of vote-buying and financial pledges that clouded the electoral process. These concerns, along with systematic voter suppression techniques, cast doubt on the influence of financial interests on public trust.

They noted that both political parties continued to make financial promises to voters, blurring the lines between campaign commitments and vote-buying. The EU EOM also noted that campaigning extended overseas, further expanding the scope of financial influence and accountability concerns in campaign financing.

High campaign spending per vote raises questions

The Election Commission (EC) has revealed that Maldives National Party (MNP) leader Mohamed Nazim and Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim were the highest spenders in the recent presidential election. Their campaign spending, when compared to the votes received, raises questions about the cost-effectiveness of their campaigns.

Mohammed Nazim, who received 1,907 votes, spent a total of MVR 13.1 million, translating to MVR 6,857 per vote. In contrast, Gasim Ibrahim, who secured 5,460 votes, spent MVR 19.9 million, resulting in MVR 3,654 per vote.

With 282,395 eligible voters and a 79.85% voter turnout in the first round, the total campaign spending averaged MVR 203 per person.

The financial disclosures from the presidential candidates highlight the significant financial investment required to compete in the Maldives’ elections, with questions raised about the efficiency and transparency of campaign finances.