Presidential candidate Gasim Ibrahim urges public vigilance over vote buying

Business tycoon and presidential candidate of the government-aligned Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Gasim Ibrahim yesterday (July 12) warned the public to be vigilant against the practice of vote buying during the upcoming election.

Gasim told told supporters at a JP rally on Veymandoo in Thaa Atoll that voters would be selling out not only their country, but also their religion, by taking money to vote for a candidate, according to local media.

“Would we want to sell our country and religion just for a few wads of bills?  Would we want to remain under servitude? Would we want to destroy our development and prosperity? No one has the right to sell our nation,” he was quoted as saying by newspaper Haveeru.

The comments were welcomed today by the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which said it was encouraging that a leading local business and political figure such as Gasim – who the party accuses of having previously bought votes – was speaking out against the practice.

The opposition party – which continues to allege that its time in government was prematurely ended in a “coup d’etat” on February 7, 2012 – expressed hope that Gasim was being sincere in his criticism of vote buying and would actively oppose such practices.

JP Spokesperson Moosa Ramiz was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press, while party President Dr Ibrahim Didi had his phone switched off.

Patronage system

The issue of vote buying has been recognised in NGO Transparency Maldives’ pre-election assessment for September’s scheduled election as a key target for voter education ahead of the polls.

“A crisis of confidence in candidates’ sincerity to deliver on their electoral promises could be one of the main reasons why many people take offers. Almost all the participants in the discussions thought the candidates would not bother about them or their community post-elections, or after winning the elections. ‘They would not even answer their phones’ was a common retort,” Transparency noted in its report.

“There are particularly vulnerable groups of people who are targets of vote buying. Youth groups who are victims of drug addiction, for example, could be offered drugs, money to buy drugs, or drugs at discounted rates, in exchange of their votes. Similarly, the less disadvantaged people, people in need of medical treatment, or the more elderly, seem to be particularly vulnerable to vote buying,” the NGO added.

Transparency Maldives announced earlier this month that it had begun training 42 long-term elections observers to be posted throughout every atoll nationwide to monitor the campaign landscape and misuse of public resources, and ensure elections are fair and credible.

Minivan News has itself previously observed practices of vote buying by affiliates of both opposition and government-aligned parties during a parliamentary by-election held on the island of Kaashidhoo last April between candidates representing the MDP and JP.

“During our two-day visit to Kaashidhoo, we gathered testimonies from islanders which revealed a culture of extensive vote-buying. Instead of winning votes on the strength of their legislative agendas, islanders told us both candidates handed out cash, often in the form of investment in local businesses and financial assistance for medical expenses,” Minivan News reporter Zaheena Rasheed observed at the time.

Opposition concern

MDP spokesperson and MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor today said that vote buying was a very serious concern in the build up to this year’s presidential election, though he refuted any suggestions that the party would itself have had involvement in the practice – partly citing limited funding.

“The MDP were the first party to come out and say [vote buying] was a major issue and that vote rigging was also going on,” he said. “It is a huge problem for a transitional democracy such as ours.”

Ghafoor added that JP Presidential Candidate Gasim’s criticisms of vote buying – although welcome – were “very bizarre”.

“I hope he is not doing this in a tongue and cheek way while his party continue to buy votes,” he said.

Ghafoor said the MDP had in the past openly accused Gasim of being one of several political figures having involvement in buying votes ahead of democratic polls across the country.

“From our understanding, vote buying works at different levels. On small island for instance, we have heard cases where one individual will be given a budget of MVR 250,000 (US$16,500) to distribute among the public to secure votes for a candidate,” he said.

Ghafoor claimed that since the MDP came to power in 2008, up until the end of former President’s Nasheed’s time in office in 2012, various social protection measures introduced – such as universal healthcare – had made vote buying more expensive and difficult for political figures.

From the party’s own perspective, the MDP said it had conceived a voter protection model where it requested its “grass roots” support to nominate an individual to manage concerns and complaints over any alleged vote buying.

Aside from external monitoring being conducted by NGOs, Ghafoor said that all parties would need similar methods of vigilance to publicise any cases of vote buying should it occur when voting begins for the Maldives’ next president.