Transparency Maldives (TM) has observed that while election day processes were transparent and generally well-administered, several wider issues still persist when measuring the overall fairness of the elections.

In a press statement, issued after polls closed on Sunday, TM outlined vote buying, lack of transparency in political financing, abuse of state resources, barriers for women’s equal participation in the electoral processes, and long overdue reforms to the electoral legal framework as challenges that need to be swiftly and sufficiently addressed for the democratic process to be strengthened.

Regarding the polling day itself, TM noted that stations almost exclusively closed on time. Voter registries were well managed, and assisted voters were spread across efficiently, while voting was temporarily halted in less than 3.5 percent of polling stations, the governance watchdog noted.

Police entered less than 12 percent of polling station, but in more than half of such occasions, they did so on instructions from the Presiding Officer, TM observed.

Candidates were represented throughout the count, with one or more representatives present at more than 96 percent of the polling stations, while disputes relating to the validity of votes were only reported at less than 13 percent of stations, the organisation noted.

Commenting on larger systemic issues, TM highlighted the abuse of state resources in campaigning. The organisation noted specific instances where campaigning with state resources was recorded;

  • Events commemorating the awarding or inauguration of at least six development projects, worth over MVR 680 million, were posted on the official social media accounts of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and ministries just 48 hours ahead of Election Day
  • Amendments were made to at least three administrative areas of islands, transferring the jurisdiction of different lagoons and uninhabited islands within four days of the election
  • On Election Day, amendments were made to two administrative areas by Presidential Decree
  • With less than a day ahead of polls opening, the Ministry of Housing, Land, and Urban Development announced that the current administration would provide housing and support securing housing loans to those who were ‘deprived of’ housing under the previous administration’s social housing schemes—specifically, to those that did not receive housing from the TATA flats in 2010

Transparency Maldives noted that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the Police should strengthen monitoring, investigation, as well as submission for prosecution of incidences of vote buying and misuse of state resources, while parliament must review and incorporate into law provisions in the ACC guidelines on the use of state resources.

All stakeholders interviewed by TM during their pre-election assessment raised concerns over vote buying in the parliamentary election cycle, and the independent watchdog also received information of widespread allegations of vote-buying during the campaign period and on election day. However, the organisation cited a lack of monitoring as well as a weakness in expeditious investigations and enforcement as key challenges in properly addressing vote buying.

In terms of political financing, TM pointed to deep flaws in standards and practices as well as poor oversight as leading to the lack of transparency in political and campaign financing; including in the parliamentary election. Political parties and individual candidates should fully disclose their source of funds and potential conflicts of interest, TM outlined, explaining that this would restrict vested interests from prevailing over public interest when elected.

TM advocated addressing gaps in the legal framework and implementation of existing provisions to facilitate public scrutiny and to ensure periodic reporting, as well as effective oversight of political finance.

“We also reiterate our calls for the Parliament to expedite the passing of the Asset Declaration Bill,” Transparency Maldives highlighted.

Only 43 women, out of a total of 368 candidates, contested the elections, with just three eventually elected according to the provisional results, TM highlighted. While the Maldives is ranked 175 out of 184 countries in terms of gender balance, this was also the lowest in the South Asia region, the governance watchdog highlighted.

Relevant authorities should identify and address the barriers for women’s equal participation in politics, and political parties must work proactively to review internal mechanisms and policies to address the representation of women in elections, TM said.

Other issues pointed out by TM include;

  • Processes that result in assigning voters to constituencies based on permanent address, robbing voters of effective representation
  • Lack of effective long-term voter and civic education on issues such as vote buying, political finance transparency and equality of women in political participation

Transparency Maldives, while observing that Maldivian citizens displayed a spirited engagement in the democratic process, urged all stakeholders to bring in the reforms necessary to improve and increase confidence in the electoral systems of the Maldives.