State broadcaster hosts Presidential Debate ahead of September 7 election

State broadcaster Television Maldives on Sunday aired a live question and answer session with the four candidates contesting the September 7 presidential election.

Moderator Heena Waleed stated that the questions asked – concerning education, health and economy, development and social protection – were based on a survey done by the Maldives National University (MNU) on citizens’ concerns.

The candidates included Gasim Ibrahim representing the Jumhoree Coalition – consisting of the Jumhoree Party (JP), Adhaalath Party (AP), Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) and former PPM interim deputy president Umar Naseer and supporters, President Mohamed Waheed contesting as an independent candidate in coalition with the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) coalition, Abdulla Yameen representing the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) coalition, and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate Mohamed Nasheed.

TVM also held a running mates’ debate on August 26.

In their introductory statements Gasim, Waheed and Yameen spoke of the “deteriorating standard of living, torn up social fabric and the lack of peace and unity”, pledging to rectify these issues if elected.

Waheed said that he had assumed power in very dangerous times – referring to 7 February 2012’s controversial transfer of power – “I will remain a faithful leader,” he pledged.

Nasheed focused on reiterating the policies covered in MDP’s “Costed and Budgeted” manifesto, which was released on August 24.

Education policies

The first question posed concerned what changes would be brought to the education system, with the host claiming that  many citizens felt that while the country followed the UK system, other South Asian countries had “far better systems with a higher pass percentages”. This was followed by asking how the candidates planned to increase the number of people interested to pursue a career in teaching.

All candidates spoke of making arrangements to allow teachers to work on their islands of origin, to provide accommodation, and of introducing or continuing vocational technical training and higher education opportunities.

The three candidates from the current government’s unity coalition also emphasised that building interest in the field depended on how much financial and other incentives can be offered, pledging to increase them.

Gasim added that he will introduce Islam, Dhivehi and Quran as subjects, although all three are already taught in primary and secondary schools. He also said that all students in and above Grade 8 will be given a laptop and an internet connection under his government.

Nasheed spoke of his previous three years in office, noting that he had introduced single sessions for 150 schools, built 243 classrooms, and worked towards increasing the the number of students who passed at least five subjects in GCE O’Level examinations. He said that if elected, his administration will continue these efforts while also training educators to conduct multi-grade teaching.


Candidates were asked to name three steps that could be taken immediately to strengthen the country’s weakened economic status.

Gasim spoke of decreasing the deficit and establishing a tax system.

Waheed highlighted the importance of broadening existing industries, claiming that he was currently holding discussions with foreign bodies to introduce new industries including financial and ICT services.

He also claimed that he had brought down the budget deficit from 14 percent to 5 percent.

Yameen spoke of increasing investor confidence and establishing special courts to look into cases of concern for the investors. He added that fishermen would be given “a monthly salary of MVR 10,000 (US$650) whether they catch fish or not.”

“In the first two years we will make the budget zero or completely get rid of deficit. In the remaining three years there will be a budget surplus,” Yameen stated.

Nasheed stated that his party’s aim is to decrease the difference between the rich and the poor, adding that this can be achieved through setting up a solid tax system.

“It is very important to decrease debt. Although Waheed just claimed otherwise, our economic situation has been deteriorating ever since he brought about the coup d’etat. Debt is at 82 percent of GDP, there is a huge deficit, inflation is extremely high,” Nasheed retorted, adding that an MDP government would work to bring all of this back into balance again.

While all spoke of how the difficulty of getting foreign currency in the country could be addressed through increasing foreign investment, Nasheed alleged that investors are reluctant to invest in the Maldives “after the coup d’etat and the harassment of investors following it, including sending our investors without any justification”.

Waheed responded by saying that “It is ridiculous to claim we are not getting foreign investments now. They are very eagerly coming, even more now. One example of a great investor that I brought in recently is BlackStone.”

The US private equity firm bought both Maldivian seaplane operators, Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA) and Maldivian Air Taxi (MAT), in February 2013 for an undisclosed sum.

Cost of living

All candidates pledged to establish sewerage and water systems on all islands.

Asked about policies focused on permanently reducing costs of electricity, Waheed and Nasheed spoke of increasing the use of renewable energy.

“While some people spend time acting in movies with the pretence of ‘protecting environment’ and managed to make no more than US$11 million available for renewable energy, in the past one and a half years I have raised US$200 million. I will make 30 islands run 100 percent on solar energy in the next two to three years,” Waheed claimed, referring to Nasheed’s documentary, the Island President, filmed while Waheed was serving as Vice President in Nasheed’s administration.

Gasim also spoke of introducing solar energy, promising to “create power stations and then connect them with a grid through submarine cables or something like this. In order to bring down electricity prices, we will maintain the same price countrywide for wheat flour, rice and sugar”.

Social protection

All candidates except Nasheed spoke of establishing centres to care for the elderly. Nasheed’s proposal is to continue offering a pension to the elderly.

“I plan to build rehabilitation centres for the elderly in the atolls, which can be managed with the cooperation of the community. The problem of elderly or of health can be dealt with through a sustainable insurance scheme,” Yameen said.

Gasim said: “As Muslims, we see parents taking care of children, treating them like [the apple of their] eye. And we should return this care when parents grow old. Our manifesto also says we will provide health care through insurance or something so I have no worries about that,” Gasim stated.

Waheed, meanwhile, pledged to increase the current monthly allowance to the elderly of MVR 2300 to MVR 3500, while Yameen said he will increase it to MVR 5000.

End notes

Waheed was mainly asked how much independence should be granted to the judiciary, to which he responded, “I don’t think that in the history of the Maldives, except in the past year and a half, there has been a single president who did not meddle with the judiciary. I have never done so, and I never will.”

“I have done as much work as anyone else here to bring democracy and I will protect it. But differing opinions can’t be an excuse to commit arson and murder. A lot of people even accused me of not wanting to hold elections, but look, we are having elections soon. I will remain a faithful leader,” Waheed stated.

Responding to a question on what assistance would be provided to pre-schools if he was elected, Yameen said he would ensure that pre-schools stop charging fees.

“An elected president must be someone who will spend all day, every day thinking about nothing but the country’s economy,” he ended.

Gasim, asked about corruption and gang violence, among other topics, focused mostly on reviewing existing laws. He said he is of the opinion that corruption is lower in the private sector, adding that salary increments for government posts could be a possible solution.

He also said that gang crimes can be dealt with by introducing legal frameworks into the school curriculum and offering rehabilitation to gang members, while better implementing legal action against gang crimes.

“I will do all possible to make Maldives into a country like Singapore or Dubai,” was Gasim’s concluding statement.

Questions posed to Nasheed were regardingthe high level of corruption, separation of powers, and concerns that political activity and its broad media coverage has decreased national unity.

“Some people feel that remaining behind an authoritative leader without asking questions is unity. But in the new constitution we adopted, there has to be differences in opinion. We must be able to conduct freedom of expression and freedom of assembly,” Nasheed began.

“Our aim was to expose and reveal all corruption cases that we discovered. This led to the illusion that corruption increased. However, after the coup, we have not seen the audit of the coup regime’s spending, nor has the corruption index been publicized. We will govern with transparency.”

He ended saying that Maldives needs to rid itself of its culture of coup d’etats, adding “we see the situation the people that called themselves “the unity government” is in now. The insults they hurl at each other are far harsher.”

Nasheed closed the show criticising his opponents for the lack of projects completed in the past one and a half years, while saying, “the people of Maldives are aware that the competitors are “baaghee” [traitor] who are part of a coup regime. The people want governments to change through votes. The people will no longer give a chance to those who flee at every sign of political turmoil.”

Watch the debate:


PPM predicts election win, barring any “major incidents”

Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) Spokesperson and MP Ahmed Mahloof has stated that the party is confident of winning the September 7 presidential election unless there are “major incidents” on the day.

The party’s biggest concern was the chance that a large part of the electorate registered in polling stations other than those at their permanent residences may be denied the right to vote, he said.

“We are confident that unless such a problem arises, or some major incidents are carried out on voting day, we can smoothly win the elections even if things carry on as now,” Mahloof continued.

“Honestly, what worries us is that thousands from the electorate may be unable to cast their votes. However, the Election Commission (EC)’s Vice President [Ahmed] Fayaz has assured us at the last meeting we had that the EC will ensure no more than 50 people will be unable to vote due to any complications that may arise from re-registration,” he stated at a press conference held today (August 26).

Fayaz today suggested that the PPM’s concerns may have resulted from them “somehow misquoting” what he had said to them during an informal meeting.

Mahloof said although the party accepted that a low number of persons may be unable to vote due to unavoidable complications that may arise on election day, he felt it was better to air any concerns prior to polling day.

“This country needs peace and calm. There will never be peace in this country if the day after the elections, a group comes out again, expressing dissatisfaction with the results, and commits arson and assaults,” Mahloof said.

Mahloof declared that the PPM’s weekly survey showed the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) was rapidly losing the support it had previously had.

The PPM poll currently predicts the PPM will receive 46% of the votes, the MDP 29%, the Jumhooree Party (JP) coalition 18%, and President Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Ihthihaad Party (GIP) just 7%.

“If we consider the number of votes, MDP gets about 63,000 votes, PPM gets 103,000 votes, JP will get about 39,600 votes, and it looks like GIP will get approximately 15,000 votes,” he revealed.

Mahloof claimed that these sudden changes in survey figures were a result of the electorate becoming aware of the policies of different candidates through various televised interviews.

Mahloof went on to suggest that a drop in support may have been behind the MDP’s decision not to compete in Saturday’s (August 24) council by election held in the island of Nolhivaram in Haa Dhaal Atoll.

“There are some very active and courageous MDP activists in that island, and yet the party head office in Male’ didn’t dare contest as it might expose the lack of support the party has now,” he alleged.

“We’re democratic, unlike the PPM”: MDP

Responding to Mahloof’s allegations, MDP spokesperson and MP Imthiyaz Fahmy stated that his party refused to take part in any election if it could not democratically select a candidate.

“With the presidential elections this close, that is our main focus. We do not have time to hold primaries for a post in local councils that will only last for the next four months, as holding primaries is itself time consuming,” Fahmy said.

Fahmy also dismissed the PPM’s survey as “baseless”, saying that few Maldivians were even aware of such a poll.

“It’s easy to come out with poll results ‘conducted’ by themselves and announce a clear win, but it’s absolutely baseless. No surveys have thus far been conducted in the country with the oversight of an independent body.”

“All the candidates have at one point or another agreed that MDP is leading the race. The debate they engage in is about which of them will come second in the elections. MDP has garnered even more support as more people are becoming aware of our policies,” Fahmy said.

“MDP wishes to engage in competitive multi-party politics, and to contest in a free and fair competitive election. We are not the ones with a culture of attempting to win elections through bribery, vote-rigging or influencing the authorities,” Fahmy stated.

“Look at the allegations PPM is levying against the EC… we suspect that they are voicing so many complaints about the EC now only because the commission is standing as a barrier between them and some underhand plans they may be cooking up,” Fahmy alleged.

PPM is aiming to create unrest, discord: JP Coalition

JP Spokesperson Moosa Ramiz meanwhile alleged that PPM press conferences were often used for “fear-mongering”, aiming to “create discord and unrest.

“Although they’re working under a different name now – from DRP [Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party] to PPM – these are the same people who threw balls of fire at crowds and created havoc in 2008,” Ramiz continued.

“Mahloof’s statement saying ‘unless ‘huge incidents’ occur seems like a forecast they are giving, possibly meaning that if they lose, they will create unrest. That’s how we interpret it.”

“As for those polls and surveys they speak of, we do not accept those results at all. They are just saying whatever works in their benefit, probably without even having actually conducted any research,” Ramiz said.

“Although [Abdulla] Yameen appears to be the PPM candidate, it is actually [former President and PPM Leader Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom] who is doing the campaigning, and Maumoon who will be in pulling the strings. And we know who Maumoon is. He has remained two-faced, both when in power and now. He will appear all sincere and benevolent, but will be burning inside. Even now, with this survey, we see his habits on display, the habit of working in the interests of nepotism, doing whatever will benefit him, his family and those he considers ‘close’ to him,” Ramiz stated.

Ramiz further argued it was unbelievable that the PPM could gather that much support from the public, suggesting that the public had no trust in Yameen, and that his running mate – Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed – was a man “full of nothing but envy.”

“Jameel’s always throwing a fit, loudly proclaiming to put all his competition in jail for long term, or to flog someone, or to amputate someone, or something of this sort. He’s another man that the public no longer accept in the political arena. The poll they speak of is a farce. How can they have such support with men like this,” asked Ramiz.

“Insha allah, the elections may turn out exactly opposite from what they have predicted,” he added.

Gaumee Ithihad Party (GIP) Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza was not responding to calls at the time of press.


Elections Commission to publicise presidential election mandate for police

The Maldives Elections Commission (EC) is drafting a document to articulate what Maldives Police Service (MPS)’s mandate will be during the September 7 presidential elections.

“We are in the process of drawing up a small document that will outline what the police will and will not do during elections, which we will make public,” EC Vice President Ahmed Fayaz told Minivan News today (August 14).

He expects the document to be completed before the end of next week.

Fayaz explained that while the EC has requested the MPS play a supporting role to help ensure peaceful, free and fair elections take place, police officers cannot intervene without a specific EC request.

“Police can intervene only at the request of the Elections Commission staff,” said Fayaz.

“The police are playing a support role and support will be requested [by EC officials] in case anything happens that would prevent a smooth election,” he continued.

“Police must maintain a 100 foot radius distance from ballot boxes,” he added.

Fayaz explained that regarding elections, the MPS mandate is limited to enforcing law and order and monitoring the situation on each island.

“We have requested police provide assistance on every single island that will have ballot boxes,” Fayaz said.

Police teams consisting of a “very small number of people” will be deployed to each island where voting is taking place, according to Fayaz.

“The assumption is that police will not be confined to their office headquarters the day of presidential election,” Fayaz noted. “They will be present on each island [where voting is occurring] and free to move around the island that day.”

In July, the EC President Fuwad Thowfeek outlined some of the key regulations related to concerns regarding police interference with elections while speaking with Minivan News.

“Police cannot stand within a 100 foot radius of the ballot box,” Thowfeek confirmed.

“Police can enter the area only if the Head of Polling Station requests their assistance to control any criminal activity that goes beyond his control,” he continued.

“The role of the police will be to assist the Elections Commission in keeping peace and public safety,” he added.

If voting is halted, not solely a police failure: Police Commissioner

Meanwhile, in an interview given to local media outlet DhiTV Monday (August 12) Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz emphasised that the police are working to maintain peace and stability and that if the September 7 presidential election is halted it would not be solely a police failure.

“Though the Maldives Police Service was, is and will be preparing to maintain peace and stability during the election days, the public should also do their part to maintain order,” said Riyaz.

“If for whatever reason, the voting process comes to a halt, it should not be seen as a failure solely on the Maldives Police Service’s part,” he continued.

“The aim of the police is to prevent conflict before, during and after the elections on an operational level,” he added.

Riyaz noted the importance of all relevant authorities and political leaders work together to ensure peaceful presidential elections and that the MPS would provide the support requested of them by the EC.

“I believe that political figures, political parties and relevant institutions must work together to ensure that the election ends peacefully,” said Riyaz.

Riyaz also noted that a National Coordination Committee has been established with representatives from different political parties and relevant institutions so the committee can address any election issues that may arise “using diplomacy rather than out on the streets.”

In regard to Commissioner Riyaz’s DhiTV interview, Minivan News contacted Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef today to clarify specifically how the MPS will assist the EC on September 7, how law and order will be maintained, and how near to ballot boxes police teams will be stationed.

While Haneef had not responded to these enquiries at time of press, he noted that “The police are releasing all information regarding their role during elections through public mediums,” such as on the MPS website.

Furthermore, Haneef said the police have already “revealed the story of Riyaz” in regard to his DhiTV interview.

The MPS website states that the “Peaceful Conduct of the Presidential Election 2013” is an operational priority.

“Following the change of government in February 2012, the society is highly polarised and fragmented on political affiliations. Therefore, it is imperative for meticulously plan and prepare for the Presidential Election 2013,” as noted on the website.

The objective of this operational priority is to “Create an environment conducive for the conduction of Presidential Election 2013 and effectively manage any possible post-election conflicts,” states the website.


Elections Commission to draw lots to determine candidate order on ballot paper

The Elections Commission (EC) has confirmed lots will be drawn next Sunday (July 28) to determine the order presidential candidates’ names will appear on voter ballots, unless a case questioning a candidates’ legitimacy is filed with the Supreme Court, reports local media.

The deadline for presidential-hopefuls to file their candidacy was 2:00pm yesterday (July 24) EC President Fuwad Thowfeek told local media.

There is a five day window, beginning the day a candidate registers with the EC, that cases regarding the legitimacy of a presidential candidate can be filed with the Supreme Court, according to local media.

The five day period has passed for cases to be filed against Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) former president and current presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed as well as President Mohamed Waheed, who is contesting as an independent, according to Sun Online.

However, cases can still be submitted to the Supreme Court against Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) MP and presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen, as well as resort tycoon and Leader of the Jumhoree Party (JP) Gasim Ibrahim, as they filed their candidacies with the EC Monday (July 22).

Assuming no cases are filed with the Supreme Court, lots will be drawn Sunday to determine the order presidential candidates’ names will appear on voter ballots, said Thowfeek.

In the event a case is filed against a presidential candidate, the Supreme Court must issue a verdict within seven days, according to CNM.


President Waheed and running mate Thasmeen to contest elections as “independent pair”

President Dr Mohamed Waheed and his running mate Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali will be competing in the September’s presidential election as independent candidates.

Waheed announced today (July 16) his intention to officially register with the Elections Commission (EC) as an independent candidate, despite heading the Gaumee Ithihad Party (GIP) and leading the ‘Forward with the Nation’ coalition.

The coalition backing Waheed’s and Thasmeen’s bid for election in September currently includes the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), in addition to the GIP. However, several key members of DQP have since defected to the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), while DRP leader Thasmeen was recently taken to court by a series of creditors.

Waheed told local media during a press conference held in the President’s Office today that he would be contesting the election as an independent candidate, since “certain parties” have questioned GIP’s legitimacy and the Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the dissolution of political parties with less than 10,000 members.

“If I decide to compete as a party candidate before the matter is decided [by the Supreme Court], it will be questioned. There are people trying to bar me from competing. I will not be the one to get caught in that trap,” said Waheed.

Candidates unaffiliated with a political party are required to submit signatures of at least 1,500 supporters with their official candidacy application, according to local media.

“So I intend to take the form and go on the streets. I will visit houses, carrying the form, during the next two days and ask those who wish to see me remain in this post for another term to sign,” Waheed explained.

Investigations are currently underway into 46 cases of fraudulent political party enlistment filed by the EC, as well as another case individually lodged, Police Chief Inspector Abdulla Shatheeh told local media. Some of the people signed up to the party were alleged to already by deceased at the time of their registration.

The fraudulent political party forms are said to include 15 people signed to President Waheed’s GIP, five from his DRP running mate Thasmeen, and 27 from prominent businessman and MP Ahmed Siyam’s Maldives Democratic Alliance (MDA).

The Maldives Police Service has recently said it is experiencing “difficulties” investigating the 47 cases of fraudulent enlistment, with “no way” to hold the respective political parties accountable.

“No other legal way”

“Now Waheed is working as a coalition president, however the Constitution doesn’t allow a coalition president to be nominated or contest as a presidential candidate,” ‘Forward with the Nation’ Coalition Spokesperson Abdul Rasheed Nafiz told Minivan News today.

“There are two options; President Waheed has to apply through a political party or as an independent candidate,” said Nafiz. “There is no other legal way to become a presidential candidate.”

“Now because he is in a coalition with other parties – which work as one under the brand name ‘Forward with the Nation’ – he doesn’t want to say he’s president of GIP only,” he continued.

“In that case, he would have to use the GIP logo on campaign materials, etc, so this was the only solution,” he added.

Nafiz noted that Waheed had mentioned his intention to run as an independent candidate “a long time ago” and that his coalition partnerships would not be negatively affected by the decision.

“The strongest part of the coalition is Dr Waheed, and the coalition partners remain with us and public support is also the same as before,” said Nafiz.

“There is no problem even though Adhaalath has left the coalition, as they [are still] part of the government. They have said that although their leader has decided to leave [the coalition] they will support President Waheed as a candidate,” he added.

Earlier this week the Adhaalath Party (AP) withdrew from ‘Forward with the Nation’, a day after the party slammed Waheed for telling the AFP newswire that the party had “extremist” individuals. The party left the coalition citing “mysterious events” as well as the coalition’s prospective inability to succeed in “saving the nation” from former President Mohamed Nasheed’s “sacrilegious actions”, AP President Sheikh Imran Abdullah told local media at the time.

Waheed will be conducting his social policy launch on Thulusdhoo Island in Kaafu Atoll tonight, noted Nafiz. He has also announced the coalition’s health, education, and youth policies.

“As the ruling coalition, they have shown they have the capacity to rule the country with opposition parties,” said Nafiz. “Waheed has proved that he has brought peace, order and done good work to improve the economy.”

Meanwhile, DRP Parliamentary Group Leader MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom told Minivan News that Waheed’s running mate will also be registering as an independent candidate.

“Of course Thasmeen is the leader of DRP, but in the presidential campaign he will be running as an independent,” said Mausoom.

“There is no slot to represent DRP because he is Waheed’s running mate. They are an independent pair,” he continued.

Mausoom noted that although Waheed made the announcement today, the decision was made previously and that there is “no change at all” between DRP’s relationship with the coalition.

“It not a surprise at all, this was discussed,” said Mausoom. “The coalition leaders have an agreement.”

“This is how the coalition wanted to go, it’s the way it is and it’s the right way forward,” he continued.

“It is a coalition of political parties and individual people,” he added.

“The DRP coalition with Dr Waheed will give people an alternative vote, an opportunity other than [former President Maumoon Gayoom’s] 30 years or [former President Mohamed Nasheed’s] three years,” he declared.

Eailer this week EC announced it will open the opportunity for presidential candidates to formally file their candidacy at the commission to contest in the presidential elections, from July 22 until July 24.

The Adhaalath Party President Sheik Imran was not responding to calls at time of press.


Transparency Maldives deploying 42 long term elections observers nationwide

Transparency Maldives (TM) has 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.

The long term observers have been appointed  addition to 200 observers who will be present on election day.

TM staff began a three day training program for the long term observers on Saturday (July 6), with the assistance of experts and representatives from relevant state institutions including the Elections Commission (EC), Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), and the Maldives Police Service (MPS).

Long term observers will be responsible for meeting regularly with all key stakeholders and monitoring activities including campaigning, pre-election electoral processes, voter education, vote buying and misuse of state resources in the run up to the September 7 presidential election.

This TM program marks the first time an NGO will conduct long term elections observations in the Maldives.

“We are excited to experiment the first ever systematic long-term domestic election observation in the Maldives. We are preparing for a comprehensive election day observation, recruiting up to 200 observers who will be assigned to randomly selected ballot boxes,” said TM’s Executive Director Ilham Mohamed.

“We thank and recognise the contributions of domestic elections observers towards a credible elections,” she added.

EC President Fuwad Thowfeek highlighted the need for domestic observers and the positive role they play in strengthening the electoral system, while addressing participants during the training program’s launch.

Long term elections observations will be conducted in order to increase confidence in electoral processes and civil society participation in the democratic process. Observers will also identify areas related to the democratic electoral process that require further improvement.

The long term observations will begin July 15 – the date presidential hopefuls can file their formal candidacy with the EC – and continue beyond the 2013 presidential election to the 2014 local council and parliamentary elections, noted TM Communication Manager Aiman Rasheed.

As part of TM’s elections program, the NGO will also implement a comprehensive voter education program, upgrade their online complaints system, and conduct media monitoring.

Election environment

Transparency also 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 2013 presidential elections are set to unfold “against a context of uncertainty, crises of political legitimacy and unprecedented levels of political polarisation,” Transparency Maldives has stated, in an extensive pre-election assessment published in March.

“The latter is characterised by mistrust, categorical negative framing of one another and by the lack of self-accountability of institutions, politicians and their parties for their role in the existing political crises. The electoral background is therefore discouraging,” Transparency noted.

The detailed report identifies key challenges in the lead up to the election, such as the candidacy of former President Mohamed Nasheed, lack of monitoring of campaign financing, an extensive and entrenched culture of vote buying, and a media establishment set on fueling personality politics and further polarisation.

“The upcoming Presidential Elections are currently headed to unfold against this political context of crisis of legitimation, uncertainty of democratic transition, existing polarisations and other challenges that have been aggravated by the controversial transfer of power on 7 February 2012,” Transparency stated.


Elections Commission reduces number of ballot boxes, increases polling station personnel

The Maldives Elections Commission has reduced the number of ballot boxes to be provided for the presidential elections by 97, partly in response to resort and staff requests, but also to improve speed and efficiency by increasing the number of voting booths, officials and vote counters at each location.

A total of 459 ballot boxes – reduced from the 556 initially announced – will be required for the September 7 presidential elections, Elections Commission (EC) President Fuwad Thowfeek told Minivan News today (July 2).

“Our earlier prediction was that we’d have to place about 100 ballot boxes to cover the resorts,” said Thowfeek. “But we’ve now decided to place ballot boxes in just 56 resorts because some of them do not want boxes placed on their islands.”

“As an alternative, we’ll place boxes in the islands closest inhabited island and they’ll send their employees [to vote],” he continued.

“Resorts cannot stop their staff from going [to vote] because we have an understanding, an arrangement with them,” he declared. “If they try to stop [their employees from voting] we will take the necessary actions [against them].”

The EC will also place ballot boxes in foreign countries that have a “sizable” Maldivian population, with locations to include: Colombo, Sri Lanka; Trivandrum and New Delhi in India; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Singapore; and London, UK.

“In placing ballot boxes abroad, we’ve considered places where a minimum of 100 people are predicted to register. We’ll open for registrations tomorrow. A total of six boxes will be placed in five countries,” noted Thowfeek.

The EC also plans to place 284 ballot boxes on all inhabited islands, while five boxes will be placed on five different commercial islands, said Thowfeek.

Additionally, all prisons and detention centers will have ballot boxes, five to be placed in each of the five different detention facilities. Male’ will have 103 ballot boxes total, with 48 for Male’ inhabitants and 55 for residents from the islands.

The previous EC estimate of 556 ballot boxes needed would have provided an additional 100 compared to the 2008 presidential election, however now the numbers are nearly on par.

“We thought to include more ballot boxes in Male’ also, however after a lot of work and discussion the EC thought this might not be the proper time to redistribute the ballot areas,” said Thowfeek.

“We want to facilitate voting and the concern was if we split the assigned ballot box areas, people might find it more difficult to understand where the new polling places are,” he continued.

Thus, ballot boxes will remain in the same areas as during the 2011 local council elections.

“Instead of increasing the number of ballot boxes or polling areas, we decided to increase the number of voting booths, officials and vote counters,” said Thowfeek. “This will increase the speed and efficiency.”

“Whereas previously there were seven officials per ballot box, now there are 11, where there was one voting table now there are two, and now there will be two to three booths instead of just one,” he explained. “However, where there is a population of 700 or less seven elections officials will still be present.”

“In addition to the ballot box, there will be EC staff, observers and officers at all polling places,” he noted.

“Voter registration is available from July 1 to August 7,” Thowfeek added.

Resort staff voting

Although the EC’s first assumption was that each resort would need a ballot box, this has been revised based on requests from resorts and Maldivian resort staff.

“The EC decided to do the most appropriate and problem-free thing that will work best for resort staff and the resorts,” Thowfeek stated.

“It’s not that the resorts are not allowing ballot boxes, they have requested the EC to not keep it on their islands. Instead they will be sending their staff to nearby inhabited islands,” he continued.

“It is their preference, it’s more comfortable so the resort is not disturbed by the activity of the day,” he explained. “They will provide the transportation and make all the arrangements, like splitting their staff into groups. When one group goes [to vote], another will come [back to the resort].”

“Resort management has already informed the EC as to the nearest inhabited island to which they will be sending their staff to vote,” Thowfeek continued.

“[Additionally] some resort staff feel more comfortable going to the next island because some staff say if the ballot box is kept on the resort island they are concerned their management might know who voted for certain candidates,” he said.

“In the past this [arrangement] was made for the local council elections,” he added.

While this agreement was made with understanding that resorts will honor their pledges to allow Maldivian staff to vote, other logistical complications that may hamper voters on election day have also been addressed.

“If poor weather conditions affect transportation on the day of elections, the EC members will decide steps to allow resort staff to vote,” said Thowfeek. “If such a thing happens – weather or any other unexpected events – we will see what we can do to find a solution.”

EC Hotline Help

The EC has stressed that they wish to hear any and all issues, concerns, or complaints voters may have in regard to the upcoming elections.

“We are here to listen and check into any problems,” said Thowfeek. “Anyone can call the EC regarding any problem, we currently have 12 lines and will increase the number of reception lines as demand increases.”

Currently the EC hotline is staffed 8:00am to 8:00pm, however as elections day approaches the line hours will be extended, Thowfeek explained.

Maldivians can call or SMS to determine where they are registered to vote, which political party they are registered with, to report any problem or difficulties, and to seek any information.

The Elections Commission hotline is 1414.

The SMS codes for enquiries are as follows:

SMS PPR(space)(ID#) – current political party registration
SMS Voterinformationsystem(space)(ID#) – respective polling place location based on voter registration

Additionally, voter registration, including political party affiliation, can be verified in the Maldives’ government gazette.


Elections Commission delays publishing amended voter registry

The Elections Commission (EC) has said it has been forced to delay the publication of an amended voter registry for September’s presidential election as a result of the number of complaints filed by the public.

The amended list of voters was originally due to have been published today in the government gazette.

EC Vice President Ahmed Fayaz said that despite the delay, the commission was in “full swing” with its preparations for the presidential election scheduled for September 7. He added that the commission was presently working to address a number of concerns, including assuring that the legitimate electorate were not deprived of their right to vote due to preventable issues.

According to the latest EC records, the electorate presently consists of 240,302 individuals – 31,008 more voters than the number of participants in the 2008 presidential election.

The statistics indicate that 123,565 males and 116,737 females are presently eligible to vote on September 7.

Voter registry to be “hopefully complete by week’s end”

Thaufeeq informed local media that the commission had received 2,790 complaints based on the initial voter registry, adding that verifying these complaints had proved to be highly time consuming.

“When we are verifying complaints about deceased people being listed in the voter registry, sometimes we need to actually send staff to the addresses in question to carry out verification of the claims. It’s this verification process that is taking up time,” he was quoted as saying.

Thaufeeq stated that with the commission’s staff working day and night to complete the required amendments to the voter registry, he remained hopeful that the final list would be published by the end of the week.

Thaufeeq further called on citizens and political parties to extend their cooperation in checking whether the amended list had addressed the previously lodged complaints.

“It is also very important that each individual checks the voter registry within five days after it is published to ensure that their details are correctly included in it,” he continued.

Previously, EC President Thaufeeq stated that the commission was confident the voter registry would be completed by a deadline of June 14.

He said at the time that the amendment of the voter registry had gone “better than expected”, despite challenges remaining in notifying all the complainants about the changes made to the list, as is required according to regulations.

Ballot boxes

The EC said it estimated approximately 500 ballot boxes would need to be set up for the vote on September 7.

“As per our current estimate, 495 ballot boxes will need to be set up countrywide, but that number may still increase,” Thaufeeq was quoted as telling local media.

According to the existing EC plans, 122 ballot boxes will be placed in Male’ City: 48 for citizens registered in Male’, and an additional 74 for citizens registered in other islands who live in Male’. While ballot boxes are to be placed in other inhabited islands, 55 tourist resorts will also have polling booths stationed in them.

Resorts which do not have a minimum of 50 eligible voters working in it will not have a dedicated polling booth. Instead, the Elections Commission is appealing to management of such resorts to allow staff to travel to the nearest island to place their votes.

Additionally, all jails and detention centres in the country will have ballot boxes, as well as other nations which have a minimum of 100 Maldivian citizens living in them. These countries are said to include India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and the UK.

Concerns pending solutions

EC Vice President Ahmed Fayaz has however expressed concern that the identity cards of hundreds of inmates will have expired prior to voting day.

“We have been discussing the issue with them. The renewal of identity card requires a fee to be paid, and the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services have told us that they do not have sufficient funds to carry out ID renewals for the inmates,” Fayaz said.

“In the end, the only viable solution is for the concerned state authorities to find a solution for this,” he said.

Political parties contesting in the upcoming election have previously spoken to Minivan News about their respective concerns over registration and identity card renewal ahead of the vote.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s Membership and Campaign Committee member Ahmed Shahid spoke of such concerns, alleging that based on the current situation, “it doesn’t seem as though the state is really trying to solve the issues prior to the elections”.

“From the information we have gathered, we understand that approximately 40,000 identity cards will expire before September 7. According to the the information we have, the Department of National Registration has the capacity to issue about 350 or so cards a day. This suggests that the 40,000 people from the electorate will not all be able to get the cards renewed before the elections,” Shahid said at the time.

Earlier this month, Government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan said the party was continuing to come across issues within the recently published election registry due to incorrect information and the inclusion of voters now believed to be deceased.

He said that with an estimated third of the population also having moved from their home islands to the capital in recent years, correct registration would be another vital issue in the lead up to September.

Nihan claimed the EC therefore “has a lot of work to do” in the lead up to September to ensure its database of registered voters was both up-to-date and correct.

“The government also has to try and provide the funds for the EC and also participate with international stakeholders to get the assistance to ensure elections are free and fair,” he said.


Police request Elections Commission make “easier voting arrangements” for officers

The Maldives Police Service has requested the Elections Commission make “easier arrangements” to vote in the upcoming presidential for police officers and suspects in custody, reports local media.

Current regulations require eligible voters to cast their vote in September’s upcoming presidential election on the island where they have registered, according to police.

However, police officers have to make urgent trips for official purposes and might lose their constitutional right to vote, the police told local media.

Additionally, suspects might be held on an island other than where they are registered, which would deprive them of their right to vote, police said.