The first local council election to be held in the Maldives has concluded with a clear seat majority for the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) across islands and atolls, however the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) took the majority of seats for almost every major population centre.
Preliminary results show that MDP holds all but two council seats in Male’ and every seat in Addu, where an election was cleared to proceed after a last-minute Supreme Court decision the day before. Together these areas account for around 40 percent of the voting population of the Maldives.
As a result, both parties celebrated election victories in Male’ yesterday evening, with former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom headlining a “Welcome to Blue Maldives” rally at the artificial beach, while jubilant MDP supporters crowded into pickup trucks bedecked with yellow balloons, and drove around Male’ cheering before attending a rally at the MDP Haruge.
The Elections Commission (EC) is currently collating the results and should have final counts by 6pm this evening, which will allow an analysis of party preferences on a per-voter basis – a key indicator for the 2013 Presidential election. This is misleading to do with the raw ballot count, as those outside Male’ and Addu effectively voted twice – once for island council, once for atoll council.
Vice President of the Elections Commission, Ahmed Hassan Fayaz, said preliminary figures showed a 70 percent voter turnout across the country. Minivan News attended several polling stations across Male’ and noted the atmosphere to be orderly, cheerful and professional.
The EC has declared the elections free and fair, although it has acknowledged the validity of many complaints.
“There were some complaints of election observers campaigning [at the ballot box], and there were also complaints that even some election officials were showing an inclination towards a particular party,” Fayaz said.
Elections Commissioner Fuad Thaufeeq acknowledged to newspaper Haveeru that while the commission had searched for impartial elections officials, “we were not able to find the required amount of officials who do not belong to a political party.”
He also confirmed that the commission was investigating reports that officials had been threatened at some polling stations by elections observers, in an effort to influence the election.
Such incidents were sporadic, Fayaz said, however across the country the commission grappled with disgruntled ‘assistant’ voters, mostly friends and family members seeking to accompany elderly voters to the ballot box.
“We decided that only those who legally required assistance would be permitted to vote in this way, and that became a big issue,” Fayaz said.
“The problem is that the law says [votes can be assisted] only when a person has an illness or physical disability that leaves unable to use their hands. The culture and the practice has been for elderly voters to be assisted by friends and family, but this time we said no. It caused complaints because in the past people have been able to vote like this.”
Major disruption occurred on Kelaa in Haa Alif Atoll, an island of approximately 2200 people, when clashes between islanders, police and election officials forced authorities to evacuate the ballot box to Hanimadhoo.
“Officials were a little slow with the voting and as result of several small hiccups, we heard that there were too many people still waiting to vote (by the 4pm deadline),” Fayaz said.
“We said we did not mind if they stayed open until 8pm or even 10pm so that everybody could vote, but [the situation escalated]. I think one of the reasons was that the officials were not experienced in dealing with such situations,” he said.
Reports in Haveeru suggested that over 600 people may have been unable to vote after the polls closed on the island. Fayaz said the EC had counted the Kelaa votes and recorded interim results.
“So far we have not decided to hold a re-election, but we are ready to do so if a court rules this is required,” he said.
Election observers from the Commonwealth Secretariat are preparing a report on the election.
Political Affairs Officer Alison Pearman said she was unable to comment on the election as it was outside the mandate of the small team of observers, but said the report for the Secretary General would likely be passed to the Elections Commission.