The European Union’s Election Observation Mission (EOM) has recommended the Maldives take steps to clarify jurisdictional overlaps and to ensure the transparency of campaign finance.
“Our recommendations are focused on improving the environment for the next elections here in the Maldives,” said Chief Observer Edward Kukan.
“They are potential solutions, cornerstones for debate,” he added.
Presenting the final report of the mission conducted during the Majlis elections in march, the observers also advised further efforts to reduce vote buying and to guarantee secrecy of the vote.
As well as highlighting Supreme Court “interference” in the electoral process, the EU mission suggested that the dismissal of senior elections commissioners less than two weeks prior to polling violated both the constitution and the Elections Commission Act.
“Legislation should clearly define the division of the competencies of the courts, the Election Commission, the police and the Anti-Corruption Commission during the electoral process,” read the report.
The EOM also noted the lack of clarity surrounding the legal validity of the 16-point guidelines introduced by the Supreme Court during last year’s presidential elections.
“These guidelines did not appear to improve the elections process and they were not always practical or implementable.”
The mission – which also conducted media monitoring – called for an amendment to Article 27 of the constitution, which relates to freedom of expression that is not deemed contrary to the tenets of Islam.
The report recommended changing the article to bring it into alignment with the Maldives commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Article 19 of the ICCPR calls for everyone to have the freedom to “seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print.”
Additional recommendations made by the group included greater efforts to promote the participation of women, whom the report described as being “acutely under-represented in public life”.
The decrease in the percentage of female MPs elected in March was viewed in the report of growing conservatism and de facto discrimination across society.
Following suggestions of local civil society that the fairness of the poll had been threatened by ‘money politics’, today’s report called for the overhaul of campaign finance rules.
“The area of campaign finance is insufficiently regulated and there were widespread allegations that over-spending as well as vote-buying were common practice.”
Regulations regarding “third party spending and in-kind” contributions” ought to be implemented, said the mission, while there should be an effort to minimise the use of state resources and a moratorium on candidates’ opening public works during campaigning.
Mission members noted that road construction projects were inaugurated in Addu atoll in the presence of President Abdulla Yameen and Progressive Party of Maldives candidates – a task normally reserved for the city council.
“Numerous reports of excessive campaign expenditure, as well as abuse of state resources, suggest the playing field was not level.”
Observers noted receiving reports of widespread vote-buying, threats, and bribery – these included the distribution of TVs and washing machines, scholarships, loans, and medical treatments.
Representatives of all parties aired allegations of endemic corruption following the March 22 vote, which saw pro-government parties win a handsome majority
It was also noted that the deadline for the declaration of campaign spending by candidates currently comes 14 days after period for legally challenging results expires.
Further recommendations made today included measures to protect the secrecy of small numbers of voters casting their ballots outside of their constituency.
The report argued that people should be allowed to register as voters in the constituencies in which they permanently reside in order to be effectively represented by their MP. Currently, Maldivian citizens are permanently registered on the island on which they were born.
With regards to the media environment, the mission suggested a merger between the Media Council and the Broadcasting Commission in order to provide a “clear delineation of responsibilities” for oversight during future elections.
The EU’s mission involved 30 observers from 16 EU member states, observing the entire electoral process including the legal framework, campaigning, media conduct, voting, ballot counting, and the general electoral environment.