Can Maldivian institutions ensure free and fair polls?: The Hindu

“A free and fair poll will depend on how the fledgling institutions in Maldives — which began operating in a democratic space after the first real multi-party presidential polls in 2008 — cope with the competing demands,” writes R. K Radhakrishnan for the ‘The Hindu’ newspaper.

“It’s 11:oo pm on Tuesday (September 3) in Male’s artificial beach, which serves as a meeting ground for people and an open-air sports complex, but no one seems to be in a hurry to leave.

A blaring music system belts out techno, pop, soft rock and even blues. Nearby, youngsters play some serious basketball.

Welcome to the ‘3 on 3 street challenge’, tournament, conducted by the youth wing of a political party, the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM). As many as 16 men’s teams compete for the MVR 40,000 ( $2,600 approximately) prize money.

There is a handsome cheque for runners-up too. And, there’s also a tournament for women, with a fourth of the prize money. The finals will be held on September 4, barely three days ahead of the vote! ‘3’ is PPM presidential hopeful Abdulla Yameen’s number on the ballot paper.

Elsewhere, Maldivian President Mohamed Waheed, who is running as an independent candidate, inaugurated a new airport on September 3. A day earlier, his cabinet annulled a decision to make Addu City Equatorial Convention Zone – where the last Saarc summit was held – an uninhabited area. A third presidential candidate, multi-millionaire resort tycoon Qasim Ibrahim, has been accused by rivals, including the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) of distributing freebies to voters to garner votes.

“There is no electoral offences act,” says Ahmed Najaaf Saleem of Transparency Maldives, which has the largest number of observers on the ground for the elections. “The complaints mechanism of the elections commission has been an utter failure,” he added.

The Elections Commission (EC) has not laid down the ground rules for activities such as sports meets of inaugurations. The only criterion available now is that a candidate can spend MYR 360 million for the election. This is calculated from the day of announcement of elections; the period before, and the expenditure incurred by the candidate’s party and others are not taken into consideration.

It’s not merely politicians who are indulging in acts that would be a direct violation of code of conduct in most democratic nations. It involves other institutions too. The head of the Maldivian Police Force, Abdulla Riyaz tweeted on September 1: ‘MPS created 9 years ago today. Thank you sir @maumoonagayoom for the executive decision to create a service for the protection of people.’

He was thanking former President Maumoon Gayoom, whose half-brother, Abdulla Yameen is a candidate.”

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