Majlis elections: Undue influence, bribery, and disilussionment led to losses, says MDP

Senior members of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have said that bribery and people losing faith in elections may have been responsible for the party’s loss in yesterday’s election.

While the preliminary results are to be announced by the Elections Commission (EC) tonight, results reported by the media indicate that the MDP have won less than 30 percent of seats (22 – 25 seats) while the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has taken approximately 39 percent of the seats (33 seats).

Along with the seats of the PPM’s coalition partners – including Gasim Ibrahim’s Jumhooree Party (JP), who reportedly won 14 seats – President Abdulla Yameen’s government appears to have won the approximately 65 percent of the seats in the People’s Majlis.

MDP Chairperson MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik and MDP parliamentary group leader MP Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Solih  – both of whom reclaimed their seats yesterday – expressed discontentment over the party’s overall performance.

“There are a number of constituencies from which the results we got really surprised the MDP. This includes Gaafu Alif, Gaafu Dhaalu and Haa Alif atolls. The results we got from these areas are not the ones we expected or hoped for,” said Hinnavaru member Ibu.

He noted that the party was not satisfied with the results in Malé City, and that while Addu City’s results were largely as expected by the party, losing MP Ilyas Labeeb’s seat was a surprise.

Meanwhile Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail – who lost in yesterday’s Machangolhi Dhekunu poll – said that the results did not surprise him as much.

“I believe the election is a farce – while there was a free vote, it was not a fair vote. Government influences were used, voters were threatened, and people were bribed openly –  I noticed this particularly in my constituency.” He said.

Ibra led the drafting of the 2008 democratic constitution in the the constitutional assembly and later served as an advisor to President Mohamed Nasheed.

When the party seemed divided over participating in the election after the Supreme Court sentenced the independent EC members, Ibra revealed that he had supported a boycott just as had former President Nasheed.

“I said at the [MDP] national council meeting as well, it is meaningless to hold an election without addressing those issues. I supported an election boycott until the playing field was leveled. Without it the people’s will cannot be expressed,” said Ibra, stating that he had predicted a low number of seats even at that time.

Undue influence and democratic disillusion

Ibra’s concerns regarding bribery and undue influence by the government and businessmen was echoed by other MPs, with Moosa describing this influence as “huge”.

“In some islands we lost with very small difference because people’s jobs were threatened by businessmen who have influence over them. People were afraid. The government also used their powers and influence,” said the MP for Hulhu Henveiru.

Local NGO Transparency Maldives has today said that “issues of money politics threatens to hijack [the] democratic process” in the Maldives.

While this was a major issue of concern among all parties, parliamentary group leader Ibu also observed that “there are constituencies where the candidates have not put in as much effort as they should have.”

‘Ibra’ Ismail stated that the low turn out could have affected the number of seats won by the MDP, as it is likely that many pro-MDP people did not take part in the election.

While no official voter turnout has yet been announced, the EC has noted that it was very low. Some estimates put turnout as low as 65 percent compared to over 88 percent during the last presidential elections.

“It is too soon to comment [as to why MDP didn’t win the election] – we can only conjecture and surmise at this point, but if look into Malé, it was very obvious that the voter turnout was very low.”

“I believe a lot of MDP supporters and people who have similar thinking did not come out and vote this time. Because many of them believed that it was meaningless, that the government will keep changing the results until they get what they want,” said Ibra.

Ibu Solih, meanwhile, noted that the Supreme Court’s influence in the election also had a great impact on the turnout.

“One thing that we noticed is that following the Supreme Court cases, there was a lot of doubt whether or not the election will be held on the date. This contributed to the low turn out as people had been confused, and failed to re-register,” he said.

Chairperson Moosa said that people were “tired and exhausted” after three elections and “fighting the coup”, noting that this has also led to financial issues within the party.

The road ahead

Ibra described the party’s loss yesterday as a “huge set back for the democracy movement”.

“I think with these results, the constitution which protects minority rights and fundamental liberties will be suspended. It will be put on the shelf.”

“With tyranny of the judiciary combined with the tyranny of the majority, we will see the right to dissent, the right to exercise people’s will, the right live freely will be curtailed to that extent [where the constitution will be as good as suspended].”

Ibra noted, however, that no democratic efforts were ever wasted, while Moosa remained adamant that the MDP would not let democracy fail in the Maldives.

“We will not let that happen. We will protect democracy, hold the government accountable and ensure the independence of the judiciary. We can do all this, and we will.”

“We started this [fight for democracy] under an authoritarian government with the support of the people. We brought down that government with an election, we forced them to bring a democratic government, we have grown in numbers since then. We fought the coup and got an election even with several attempts to deny it,” said Moosa.

Both Ibra and Ibu felt that it is time for MDP to sit down and discuss how to proceed in the future.

“The MDP has to sit down and reevaluate their strategies and decide if the strategy used in the past five or six years has worked or not. We need to have a very honest look at the situation and reevaluate. But this task will be made harder considering the environment we have to restrategise in. It is a difficult and more opressive environment,” Ibra said.

With calls for party reform being heard, party chair Moosa said any changes will be brought in through democratic means.

“If it is necessary, we will reform MDP. The party will function as the members want it to, we will never allow family rule,” he said.