Transparency Maldives announces extensive election monitoring program

Transparency Maldives has said it will conduct an extensive program of election monitoring during the 2013-14 elections in a bid to ensure the polls are fair and credible.

The Elections Commission (EC) announced this week that presidential elections would be held on September 7, with any run-off election to be held later the same month if required.

Transparency conducted domestic election monitoring during the 2008-2011 cycle of elections, including the country’s first multi-party presidential, parliamentary and local council elections. The results of these elections were widely accepted both locally and internationally – a notable outcome given the high temperature of the country’s politics.

“However, the current political polarisation and the tense, sometimes violent, political environment have strained and continue to further threaten the democratic gains of the previous election processes,” Transparency Maldives warned.

“The next round of elections is currently headed to unfold against this polarised background that appears to deteriorate in terms of political and economic problems,” it added.

In addition to nationwide election monitoring, Transparency Maldives will deploy observers to monitor the entire campaign period, as well as conduct a pre-election technical assessment that includes a focus on voter education.

“Educating voters is a crucial component of a credible election. Voter education is important to instil the values of civic responsibilities and prevent electoral violations such as vote buying and patronage, and change the attitudes of the general public to encourage wider public participation in increasing the integrity of the electoral system,” Transparency said.

The organisation will also run an online complaints mechanism, and perform media monitoring of the country’s heavily polarised fourth pillar.

Behind the “buy-elections”

Election results in the Maldives since 2008 have been widely declared credible by local and international observers, in large part due to a crackdown on practices such as photographing ballots with camera phones, and ‘assisting’ elderly or infirm relatives to vote. However, undemocratic activities in the lead up to polling – such as vote buying, patronage and intimidation – are rampant.

Minivan News observed many such activities first-hand during the Kaashidoo by-elections in April 2012.

“The people of this island will vote for money, they don’t have any principles,” confided a 21 year-old islander at the time. “The problem is that people want to force you to vote for who they support. Everyone should have the right to vote for whoever they want. Arguments within families have gone to the point that people are losing face.”

All sides were guilty of handing out cash, he said, in the guise of extending assistance for medical care: “Some people even use the money for drugs.”

In another instance, Minivan News observed a group of youths openly warning an elderly man in a cafe that they would cut of his cigarette supply unless he voted as they wished.

Other practices are more subtle – youth clubs or island NGOs may receive sizeable donations of cash or equipment in exchange for leaders influencing their members to vote in a certain manner.

During voting day on Kaashidoo, Minivan News observed that both candidates had set up exit poll booths under wide parasols, and were crossing off people who had voted.

Many islanders Minivan News spoke to at the time were open about the assistance they had received, justifying it on the grounds that the campaign period was the only time they would ever see their elected representative.