Regional media reports have begun to surface following the outcome of yesterday’s parliamentary by-elections in Kaashidhoo and Thimarafushi – interpreting poll results as a major victory for President Mohamed Waheed Hassan.
The Hindustan Times ran with the headline “Maldives bypolls: First political win for president”. Meanwhile, the Pakistan-based Business Recorder described the president as having “successfully faced down his first popularity test.”
However, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which continues to question the legitimacy of Dr Waheed’s administration, has hit out at suggestions that the polls reflected widespread public support for the government.
As polling commenced yesterday, President Waheed’s own Gaumee Itihad Party (GIP) did not field any candidates for the by-elections. Instead, the president threw his support behind candidates from the former opposition Jumhoree Party (JP) and the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).
Official provisional results provided by the Elections Commission found that the PPM’s Ahmed Shareef won in the Thimarafushi constituency with 1756 votes (56 percent of the ballot). MDP candidate Mohamed Musthafa came second with 1327 votes – a difference of 428.
Abdullah Jabir triumphed in the Kaashidhoo by-election with 1107 votes (54 percent of the ballot). His MDP opponent followed him with 919 votes while PPM candidate Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim came fourth with nine votes – a single vote behind another candidate who had contested independently and came in third.
Both the PPM and JP form part of Waheed’s unity government, assembled after the resignation of former President Mohamed Nasheed.
Yesterday’s voting appeared to pass without significant incident, despite widespread concerns that violence could accompany the first parliamentary by-elections to be held since President Waheed came to power. However, the MDP candidate for Thimirafushi, Mohamed Mustafha, has disputed the result, citing significant irregularities surrounding polling in Thaa Atoll Guraidhoo.
Speaking to Minivan News today, MDP spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor alleged that election observers were obstructed from conducting their duties in Guraidhoo. He also claimed that party observers had been arrested before the polls closed, allowing the ballots to be rigged by state representatives.
Police Spokesperson Hassan Haneef said the police had received no reports of any arrests or incidents in Guraidhoo. He also reported that there had been no unrest in either constituency after results were announced.
Election Commissioner Fuad Thaufeeq is reported in local media as having said that there were no concerns that would lead him to question the validity of the polls or their results.
In considering the by-election results, President’s Office spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza today said he believed the vote served as a ringing endorsement of the current government. Abbas added that the ballots reflected “public confidence” in Dr Waheed’s administration, as well providing a vital working majority in the Majlis.
Abbas also felt that Saturday’s success gave the government a clear signal that it has sufficient support to complete the full presidential term into 2013.
Alternatively, MDP spokesperson Ghafoor said that he saw the polls as “the price we have to pay for early elections – to show that the right conditions [for presidential elections] are here.”
Ghafoor argued that the by-elections were essentially a throw-back to the pre-2008 Gayoom-era, dismissing the interpretation that the result showed support for the current President.
“The intricacies of local elections have a long history of corruption. This [result] has nothing to do with Waheed, it’s Gayoom’s people,” he continued.
President Waheed last night thanked all those who voted in support of the national unity government via his official Twitter page: “Thanks to all who voted for Shareef and Jabir. We have a clear majority in Maldives parliament,” he wrote.