Maldives set for polls after months of turmoil and brinksmanship

Additional reporting by Ahmed Naish

Voting stations will be open November 9 from 7:00am to 3:30pm. Counting will begin half an hour after polls close, with provisional results expected by 11:30pm. A run off will be scheduled for November 10 if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the total votes.

Overseas ballot boxes will open at varying times in each country: Sri Lanka, New Delhi and Trivandrum – 8:00am to 4:30pm; Malaysia and Singapore – 10:30am to 7:00pm; London 9:00am to 5:30pm.

Check where you are registered to vote using the EC’s 1414 SMS system (text 1414 in the format ‘VIS [National ID #]’, or by visiting

The Maldives is set to head to the polls on November 9 after months of political turmoil and brinksmanship over the suspension, delay, annulment and obstruction of the 2013 presidential election.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed, ousted from power on February 7 2012 by a mutinying police force that attacked military headquarters, armed opposition demonstrators and stormed the state broadcaster before giving him an ultimatum to resign, emerged the clear front-runner in September’s polls with 45.45 percent of the vote.

Nasheed was set to face Abdulla Yameen (25.35 percent), half brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in a run-off on September 28. However the vote was suspended by the Supreme Court after third-placed candidate, resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim (24.07 percent), filed a case alleging vote rigging – despite unanimous positive assessments by more than 1000 local and international election observers.

Gasim was joined in court by Yameen and the Attorney General, Gayoom’s former lawyer Azima Shukoor. Despite a sex video scandal impinging the integrity of at least one judge on the seven member bench, the court on October 8 in a 4-3 majority annulled the vote on the basis of a secret police report that was never even shown to the defence counsel, let alone the public.

That report, since leaked (and translated here), was this morning dismissed by an expert UN review panel.

Following the annulment, the same court held a succession of midnight hearings imposing increasing sets of restrictions on the Elections Commission’s conduct of the polls, including demands that it redo the entire voter re-registration process, and conduct extensive fingerprint verification of forms when no institution in the country had the capacity to do so on such a scale.

One of these restrictions, giving candidates the power to veto the polls by not signing the voter lists – was used by the police as justification for forcibly obstruction the rescheduled election from taking place on October 19, after Yameen and Gasim disappeared and failed to answer phone calls ahead of the signing deadline.

The court’s annulment followed two weeks of street protestsstrikes,travel warnings and rumblings of concern from top ranks in the military.

The question in recent weeks, both on Male’s streets and in diplomatic circles, has not been “Who will win the election?”, but instead, “Will there be an election at all?”

“Will there be an election?”

That may finally have been answered after international patience with the delaying tactics appeared to run out last week.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay accused the Maldives’ Supreme Court of interfering excessively in the elections, “subverting the democratic process and violating the right of Maldivians to freely elect their representatives.”

“I am normally the first to defend the independence of the judiciary, but this also carries responsibilities… The Supreme Court appears set on undermining other independent institutions, stifling criticism and public debate, and depriving litigants of the legal representation of their choice,” Pillay stated.

US Ambassador Michele J Sison declared that after “weeks of political bickering and questionable delaying tactics, Maldives democracy is now in peril.”

“Further delays in Maldivian Presidential elections and continued misuse of institutions have already led many in the international community to question the legitimacy of both the process, as well as the outcome of those elections,” she stated.

“Ultimately, the power of any government rests in the consent of its people. If citizens are not allowed to freely express their desires, then those that pretend to govern cannot be perceived as having legitimacy to govern,” she said, calling on Maldivians to “salvage their democratic future”.

The UK’s Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Hugo Swire, declared in British parliament that “Anything short of [scheduled elections] will be unacceptable. I say again to those people listening in the Maldives: the world is watching closely and it wants democratic elections, a democratically elected president and no further impediment to that to be created artificially by anyone in that country, which deserves so much better.”

British MP Karen Lumley went a step further: “What happened smacks to me of a child who cannot win a board game, so they tip over the board,” she said of the decision to annul the September 7 vote.

Following a visit to Male’ this week, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco declared Saturday a “decisive moment for democracy in the Maldives.”

“It is time to allow the people of the Maldives to express their voice and their legitimate will through the ballot box. A continued failure to do so would be a serious setback to consolidating democracy in the country, with potentially serious repercussions, including a very likely negative impact on the already fragile economy,” he warned.

Surprisingly, the final major obstacle to the holding of tomorrow’s polls – Yameen and Gasim’ s continued refusal to sign the voter lists – suddenly evaporated on Wednesday night following the pair’s meeting with Nasheed and President Waheed.

“We made this difficult decision because of the rising anxiety of citizens and the financial loss faced by the state every day that the vote is delayed, to minimise foreign influence on this beloved nation, and to provide the party’s utmost cooperation to elect a president by November 11 by compromising to prioritise national interest ahead of the party’s interest,” read a statement from Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM).

The party insists it remains skeptical of the Elections Commission and the integrity of the polls.

Gasim meanwhile told local media he had suddenly reversed his decision not to cooperate in an effort to save the nation from “starvation”.

“The country should not be impoverished because of our bickering at this stage. So as the country has reached this state I don’t want to be obstinate and refuse to sign the list,” he said.

He continued to allege that the EC was “biased” and seeking to install Nasheed as president, despite asserting “100 percent” confidence that he would win.

Nasheed was blunt: “The truth is they finally signed the voter list because a German tourist agency told them to.”

An economic resolution

If a political resolution solution was not found and the country plunged into electoral and constitutional limbo, the final resolution was always going to be economic.

The dire state of the Maldives’ financial affairs was revealed this week by Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad, in a report to parliament’s finance committee.

Tourism growth (as measured in bed nights) flatlined in 2012, plunging to negative 0.1 percent from 15.8 percent growth in 2010 and 9.2 percent in 2011.

“The main reason for this was the political turmoil the country faced in February 2012 and the decline in the number of days tourists spent in the country,” the ministry’s statement acknowledged.

Activists this week hijacked World Travel Market twitter hashtag, flooding the feed of the world’s largest tourism expo with images of political brutality and calls for boycotts of Gasim’s Villa Hotel group.

Foreign banks have meanwhile refused to buy treasury bills (T-bills) from the Maldives, with some even refusing to roll over previously-sold T-bills, while others only agreed to buy them at interest rates of 11 percent, Jihad conceded.

While MVR500 million (US$32 million) a month was needed to pay salaries and allowances for state employees, government income in some months was just MVR300 million (US$19 million), Jihad noted, leaving the government no option but to draw on the central bank’s reserves.

Central Bank governor Fazeel Najeeb meanwhile warned that these reserves – barely several months worth of imports – had fallen so low as to place the Maldives on the verge of having to print money.

The State Trading Organisation (STO) then declared that oil supplies would run dry as soon as November 10 due to its US$20 million debt to suppliers, largely a result of the failure of state-owned companies to front up almost US$40 million in payments, and begged the central bank to bail it out.

The Maldives is dependent on oil for tourism, fishing, power and transport, with petroleum imports amounting to US$248.4 million in the first half of 2013 – representing 29 percent of the cost of all goods brought into the country.

A day later, the European Union rejected the Maldives’ application for an extension of duty free status for fish imports, due to country’s failure to comply with international conventions concerning freedom of religion and women’s rights.

The Maldives exports 40 percent of its US$100 million fishing industry to the EU, its single largest export partner by value. The imposing of the 14-20 percent duty as of January 2014 would lead to a loss of US$1.66 a kilo exported, revealed Economic Development Minister Ahmed Mohamed.

On his last day in office, President Mohamed Waheed meanwhile approved the lump sum payment of three months’ wages to cabinet ministers, a total expenditure of MVR 2 million (US$129,702).

“Who will win?”

With the registries signed, election materials have been dispatched across the Maldives with officials already arriving with ballot papers in the southern-most atolls of Addu and Fuvahmulah.

Transparency Maldives has announced it is ready to monitor the elections, while elections observation teams from the Commonwealth, UN, EU and countries including India and Japan are present in the country. Elections Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek told local media he has been assured by Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim that police would cooperate with tomorrow’s election.

The number of eligible voters in the revote is 239,105, just a few hundred short of the 239,593 registered to vote on September 7, which saw an 88 percent voter turnout.

Campaigning by Yameen and Gasim during the court saga has been muted compared with the lead up to September 7, while the MDP has maintained regular rallies and protest actions following the annulment.

The impact of the annulment and attempts to delay the polls, as well as the behaviour of the Supreme Court and international opprobrium on voter sentiment makes it difficult to predict support for Yameen and Gasim based on the results of the first round. This is especially true in the case of Gasim, whose energetic, incentive-based campaigning ahead of the first round appears to have been diluted by the focus on the court trial.

Foreknowledge of the annulled first round results may also impact non-committal voters in unpredictable ways.

Following the results of the first round, in which the incumbent President received just 5.13 percent of the vote, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) which had been in coalition with Waheed defected to Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Waheed withdrew from the race.

Based on the results of the first round this could be expected to lend up to five percent to the MDP, helping the party close on the more than 50 percent of the vote it so confidently predicted it would achieve ahead of September 7.

Minivan News will be covering the November 9 election via live news blog.


15 thoughts on “Maldives set for polls after months of turmoil and brinksmanship”

  1. Maldivains are generally peaceful people. Its time to show the world that they can have a peaceful election even after the bickering.

    You can do it.

  2. Despite all the shit we've been put through if there are still enough people to vote for Qasim and Yameen to make a run-off necessary on the 10th, I would say we have failed as a democracy. Democracy only thrives where the voters are mature enough to punish politicians' transgressions.

  3. Rumour has it that it was TUI TRAVEL in Germany that gave the actual Ultimatum.

    Other rumours include that Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad and Turkish Airlines have 'privately' put "pressure" on PPM/JP and Waheed. That effectively cuts off Europe from getting to Maldives unless they go the torturous route via Singapore.

    So, Tourists to the rescue!

    Lets hope the SC do not get involved.

  4. Come on Maldives! Don't let this chance go away. Exercise your right - think of your and your kids future.
    All the best!!!

  5. """ British MP Karen Lumley went a step further: “What happened smacks to me of a child who cannot win a board game, so they tip over the board,”""

    (1) Precisely. The world was not fooled by the antics of Yameen or Gasim. Did they really think they could have pulled off those tricks?

    Billions of people all over the world have been voting in democratic elections for centuries. Every single dirty trick in the book is now known! Gasim's and Yameen's stomping of feet just ridiculed them in front of the whole world.

    (2) Will there be an election tomorrow? Probably. Will the results get challenged in the Supreme Court? More than likely. Will the 4 chimps in the Supreme Court try to "anal" (sic) the results? You bet!

  6. But will they SC and corrupt judges who are controlled by the old dictator Gayoom have the final say??

    They will surely financially ruin the country over night if they do stop the election and outcome and we will never forget or forgive Yameen and Gasim if this happens.

  7. The election of Nasheed is a foregone conclusion.

    What remains for us is to chart our way through the issues that will remain beyond this election. I hope the international community makes a difference this time around by not being tolerant of government excesses or scorched-earth opposition tactics.

    The near-derailment of democracy is partly due international silence over the kind of politics practiced by all parties between 2008 up till now. All indications are that the US is willing to up the ante to ensure their continued presence.

  8. I am a Maldivian who lives in democratic Western countries. In these countries, any political party and its leader will be lucky to win more than two terms in office consecutively. Ordinary citizens may not always be very highly educated in a formal sense, but the people are politically mature and confident. People have freedom of speech and assembly. Above all, they have independent judiciaries.

    The situation in the Maldives has been nothing like it in my own lifetime and the contrast between the rights and freedoms that I have enjoyed, abroad, and the political reality in the Maldives itself is disturbing indeed.

    There is no doubt in my mind that Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was a brutal dictator who ruled the country by force for as long as 30 years. Dictators are, by definition, exploiters and they deny human rights to the people that they rule.

    Even after 30 years of such dictatorship,Gayoom has continued to be influential and powerful in the country. He has supporters, followers and even worshippers all over the country and they are located everywhere.

    The most unfortunate situation is that he is so powerful that although he did not actually overthrow Mohamed Nasheed of MDP himself, those who did it were clearly inspired by him and what they did was beneficial to him.

    Gayoom is still the uncrowned king of Maldives even though he was officially deposed in two rounds of a presidential election in 2008.

    Gayoom has launched two political parties, DRP and PPM, both of which not only managed to establish themselves in politics but claim to be able to contest elections successfully.

    His half-brother Yamin is now Gayoom's heir apparent and promises to perpetuate the Gayoom legacy whatever that might be.

    Gayoom's former servant boy Gasim Ibrahim is also a contender for presidential office and the money in his purse combined with his lack of brains promises to give democracy a hard time in the Maldives.

    My favourite candidate is Mohamed Nasheed of MDP. I have followed his rise to prominence with a high degree of personal satisfaction. He is no doubt somebody who reminds me of myself. I understand his politics.

    But he is far ahead of his contemporaries in the Maldives. His obstacles and hurdles are extremely formidable. He has yet to establish himself. I wish him and his party well.

  9. Michael Fahmy on Fri, 8th Nov 2013 9:53 PM

    "But he is far ahead of his contemporaries in the Maldives. His obstacles and hurdles are extremely formidable. He has yet to establish himself. I wish him and his party well."

    I do not wish to compare Nasheed with Mohammed Ameen, but Ameen was well ahead of his time as well and we all know what happened to him. I hope Nasheed's future is much brighter than that.

    On the eve of a hopeful return to democracy, we should be fair to Gayyoom, and not forget the good things he did for the country as well. Considering the state of the country left by Nasir, who was a brutal murderer and thief by all accounts, Gayyoom did a good job of transforming the country from a mere fishing village to a well known brand all over the world.

    Of course, Gayyoom used his absolute position and excesses of those days are now legendary. Recent audit reports suggest that excesses took place during the last MDP government as well. However the difference is we do have accountability and at least the ability to audit and find out what went on.

  10. @ Michael Fahmy

    The narrative you describe is well know by all Maldivains. The border phenomenon itself is not new to any country with a history of dictatorship

    Writing about it won't serve a purpose. We can all condemn Gay Yoom till the all Indians are beamed to Mars.

    Why don't you gve a solution. Or shut up

  11. Thank you for Minivan news and all who help us to have an election and also Minivan News staff the great work that you have done since 7th Feb 2012 after the coup.

  12. The late ex President Nasir may have been a strongman but it was actually the nation-building that was done on his watch and the infrastructure that was put in place painstakingly by patriotic Maldivians, that brought the Maldives racing into the 20th century. That period was largely wiped out of our historic book by the usual propaganda machine, but those of us who lived those years closely know better.

    Tourism arrived in the Maldives in 1972. Gayoom arrived c6 years later. Just in time to see the money flow in, along with the aid money from the oil countries. He may have started well and with good intentions. But well before his 30 years he was well past his sell-by date and had brought violence and brutality on an unprecedented scale to his people.

    This is his ugly legacy. So many lives ruined through petty revenge acts. Those pictures of Evan Naseem. Unforgettable. Gayoom just built on this legacy from February 7 2012.. a period of ugliness and inhumanity with a warning of more to come under any watch associated with him. Any chance of trying to forget the past 30 years was wiped out by that and he has to take the responsibilty for his own power hunger. And stop deluding himself he is saving the nation that he has let down so badly.

    Times have changed - it is impossible to control this new age of knowledge and the demographics tell us his time is up. Any dynastic pretensions will only further his delusion. Time to let go. We can help him do just that by voting wisely, with an eye on our future

  13. My thoughts and prayers are with you all I hope the vote goes ahead peacefully and common sense prevails - no-one can tell you what to believe in -believe in yourself and your beautiful country will be in good hands

  14. All praise to Maldives is not praising Maldives at all. He is praising only himself.
    Telling me to shut up is not democratic at all. I have the same rights to speak as he has. I will speak the way I want. He can speak the way he wants.
    The readers will decide who writes what and who writes best.
    Democracy develops personality, improves brain power and gives speaking ability. On the other hand, dictatorship stifles growth and kills people as humans.
    Was Gayoom a dictator or democrat? I think he was a big big dictator.

    The son of Addu ( not writing under his real name either ) has tried to correct me. I disagree with him almost on every point.
    But it does not worry me.

    Writing under false names or no names at all make your comments worthless and invalid. Maldivians are master craftsmen in writing with masks on their faces. Faceless people do not come from a democratic tradition.


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