More than one in three Maldivians offered bribes or witnessed vote buying, IFES survey reveals

More than one in three Maldivians were offered bribes for their votes or witnessed vote buying in the March parliamentary polls, a landmark study by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has revealed.

The ‘Money and Elections in the Maldives: Perceptions and Reality‘ report released today said vote buying in the Maldives has assumed “alarming proportions” and “if not addressed, it threatens to undermine the democratic process in the country.”

The survey gathered information from face-to-face interviews from across the Maldives and looked at prevalence of vote buying and fraud, and public perception on campaign finance.

Of the respondents who experienced or witnessed vote buying, 82 percent said they were offered cash. Of this, 53 percent said they were offered between MVR4,000 (US$262) and MVR20,000 (US$1,309) for their votes.

According to IFES, the figure for those who experienced vote buying is a conservative estimate as respondents to opinion surveys are generally reluctant to report unethical or illegal activity.

Ballot marking was the most common technique used to ensure that those offered money or gifts cast their ballot for the candidate or the party who offered them money or gifts (27 percent), the survey said.

A further eight percent were asked to swear an oath on the Qur’an while six percent were asked to turn over their identity papers.

More than a third of respondents believed fraud was committed during parliamentary polls.

Despite the alarming prevalence of vote buying, majority of Maldivians continue to have faith in the electoral process, with 8 out of 10 saying they believed voting gives them influence over decision-making in the country.

“Vote buying should be addressed before cynicism and apathy take root,” IFES said.

Campaign Finance

Nearly two thirds (66 percent) of Maldivians believed political parties and candidates spend most of their campaign funds on vote buying and gifts for voters, while 70 percent said they do not believe candidates are honest in reporting campaign spending.

When asked about key sources of campaign funding, most Maldivians believe political parties and candidates receive funds from party funds (40 percent), or that candidates are self funded (32 percent). Local businesses ranked third.

More significantly, nearly 4 out of 10 respondents said they did not know sources of funding, suggesting a significant lack of information regarding election campaign funding.

Despite the dismal picture, there is near unanimous support for campaign finance reform, specifically to combat vote buying, IFES said.

Approximately 90 percent said vote buying should remain illegal and 70 percent supported a cap on contributions by any one person.

Three quarters of respondents also said they would like to see campaign spending limits for political parties and candidates.

Hence, “Maldivian lawmakers have clear public support to introduce preventive measures to combat vote buying ahead of the next elections,” the report stated.

A clear majority, nearly 90 percent, do not believe government property, including vehicles and boats, should be allowed for campaigning or political purposes.

A majority also said candidates and political parties must not undertake charitable activities and community development activities such as building a playground or harbors, suggesting a majority recognised such activities can be utilised to generate support.

A slight majority also believed the hiring of local musicians during campaigns was inappropriate.

Survey findings indicated high levels of confidence in the Election Commission with 73 percent stating the commission performed well or very well.

Those who did not vote in the election identified re-registration and other logistical issues such as transportation as main reasons for not voting.

Nearly 4 out of 10 voters had to manually re-register before each election, the survey found. IFES has recommended legislative reform to ease the burden or re-registration and logistical difficulties for voters and the Election Commission

Of those who did not vote, 19 percent said there were no worthy candidates, while 16 percent said they had no interest and 7 percent said their vote does not matter.

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Majlis elections: “Money politics threatens to hijack democratic process”, says Transparency Maldives

Yesterday’s parliamentary elections were well-administered and transparent “but wider issues of money politics threatens to hijack [the] democratic process,” NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) has said in its preliminary statement on the Majlis polls.

TM revealed that a survey conducted prior to last year’s presidential election showed that 15 percent of respondents had been offered “money or other incentives” in exchange for their vote.

“Admissions about illegal activities such as this are usually underreported in surveys. TM’s long-term observation indicates that vote buying may be even more widespread in the parliamentary elections than other elections,” the statement read.

“Inability of state institutions to prosecute vote buying due to gaps in the electoral legal framework, lack of coordination, and buck-passing between the relevant institutions have allowed rampant vote buying to go unchecked.”

The NGO recommended that vote buying should be monitored, investigated and prosecuted “through implementation of the existing legal provisions” in addition to parliament considering “urgent reforms to the laws to better address the issue.”

While voting was ongoing yesterday, police arrested an individual near a polling station for allegedly distributing cash.

Police also revealed two days before the polls that it was increasingly receiving reports of vote buying.

Cash and gifts were allegedly being handed out on behalf of candidates for parliament, police said.

Meanwhile, speaking at a press conference today, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb – deputy leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives – categorically denied allegations that candidates representing the Progressive Coalition bought votes.

Coalition supporters have submitted complaints “with photo and video as proof” to the Elections Commission (EC) about the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party distributing cash for votes, Adeeb alleged.

Campaign finance reform

TM also noted a lack of transparency in political and campaign financing ahead of elections, which was exacerbated by “deep flaws in the standards, practices and poor oversight”.

“When political parties and individual candidates do not fully disclose where they get their money from, it is not clear who funds them, what their potential conflict of interests are, and, thereby allows vested interests to override public interest when elected as MPs,” TM observed.

It added that Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer surveys for the Maldives “continue to indicate a crisis of public trust in the parliament.”

“Increasing campaign financing transparency in parliamentary elections is crucial to hold parliamentarians to account, in order to prevent the hijack of the institution by vested interests and regain public trust in the parliament,” the statement read.

In addition to identifying and addressing “the gaps in the electoral legal framework,” the NGO recommended “implementation of existing provisions to facilitate public scrutiny, ensure periodic reporting and an effective oversight mechanism for political finance.”

Among other issues that the NGO highlighted included the abuse of state resources “by successive regimes,” which allows campaigning on public funds, and lack of effective longterm voter and civic education.

TM also noted “uncertainties arising from the role of the judiciary in elections,” suggesting that the 16-point guideline imposed on the EC by the Supreme Court last year did not “improve upon the technical aspects of the election”.


TM observed that yesterday’s polls were peaceful, transparent and generally well-administered “with just one reported incident of violence inside a polling station.”

Among the NGO’s key findings from its observation of the voting process, TM noted that 83.52 percent of polling stations closed within the first hour of the normal closing time of 4:00pm and that the eligible voter registry was “overall very clean, with a very few cases where people were not able to vote because their names were not on the voter registry or their details did not match.”

Candidates from the opposition MDP were represented at 89.4 percent of polling stations and coalition parties at 88.8 percent, the statement noted.

“Unresolved disputes were reported at only 5.3 percent ballot boxes at the time of announcing results,” it added.

TM noted that voting was temporarily halted in 2.4 percent of polling stations, of which 75 percent were “interventions at the direction of the Presiding Officer while 25 percent were interventions by an unruly voter.”

“We note that the police entered 12.35 percent of polling stations. However, in 100 percent of such cases, interventions occurred at the invitation of the Presiding Officer as the rules allow.”

Meanwhile, according to the EC, a total of 115 complaints were submitted in writing to the national complaints bureau, including 18 concerning the voter registry and 33 complaints regarding negative campaigning, behaviour of election officials, and campaigning during polling hours.

In addition, 59 complaints were made via telephone, EC member Ali Mohamed Manik revealed at a press conference last night.

Manik explained that the complaints would be addressed before preliminary results are announced today.