Commonwealth to observe polling stations in nine atolls

A Commonwealth Observer Group has arrived in Maldives to witness the proceedings of the 2013 Presidential Elections, and assess the transparency and credibility of pre- and post- election activities.

The 17 male and female observers come from  Europe, North America, South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, with experience in politics, elections execution, diplomacy, and civil society. They will be traveling to nine atolls later this week for the September 7 election.

Group Chair and former Prime Minister of Malta Dr Lawrence Gonzi addressed the press today regarding the Commonwealth Group’s activities and intentions.

“Our task is to consider all the factors impinging on the credibility of the electoral process as a whole, and to assess whether the election is conducted according to the standards for democratic elections to which Maldives has committed itself, with reference to its own election legislation as well as relevant regional, Commonwealth and other international commitments,” Dr Gonzi said in a statement.

Gonzi specified that the group would consider “whether conditions exist for free and competitive elections; whether the Elections Commission is independent and effective; the transparency of the process; whether candidates have been free to campaign; whether public media has been impartial; whether voters are free to express their will; and whether the results process is transparent.”

He added that the group would be neutral, impartial, objective and independent in its activities and assessment.

“We are here in our individual capacities as eminent and experienced Commonwealth citizens. The assessment by the Group will be its own and not that of any member government,” Gonzi said.

The group has had informational meetings with representatives of the presidential candidates as well as the Elections Commission and other key stakeholders, and will continue to meet with these figures and relevant civil society organisations and NGOs, Gonzi noted.

He deflected questions about initial observations or concerns, however he did acknowledge that “there are issues related to procedures and processes.”

Earlier this week, Transparency International released its oversight plan for the 2013 elections proceedings, and Indian election observers arrived in Maldives. The United Nations has also announced that it will be sending an observer group to the country.

The Commonwealth Group said that it will be working cooperatively with these groups to gather information from all atolls and voting sites, “but we do have our own methods and tasks as mandated by the [Commonwealth] Secretary General.”

Observation of the Maldives’ first multi-party elections in 2008 and 2009 was conducted by Transparency Maldives, the Commonwealth Observer Group, and the Delegation of the European Commission to Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Domestic observation was supported by the Royal Embassy of the Netherlands, the Canadian International Development Agency, and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES). Transparency International’s report on the election noted that restrictions on accessibility to polling stations according to type of observational body created confusion.

The Observer Group will write its report and release it “as soon as possible” after the September 7 election. The group will remain involved in proceedings in the event of a second round.