Democracy survey reveals crisis of confidence in democratic institutions

The Maldives’ first survey on public attitudes towards democracy reveals a deep crisis of public confidence in key democratic institutions, local advocacy group Transparency Maldives has said.

Of a 1000 randomly selected individuals, 62 percent said they have no confidence in parliament, while 58 percent said they have no confidence in political parties. Respondents who reported no confidence in the local government and courts stand at 50 percent and 46 percent respectively

The ‘Democracy at Crossroads’ survey also revealed extraordinarily high levels of cynicism, with 92 percent stating they believe politicians lie to get elected and 86 percent saying the government does not care about ordinary people.

Cynicism has “corrosive effects on democratic life,” the report said, claiming it drives citizens away from active participation in the public sphere which in turn increases impunity and corruption.

Transparency Maldives’ Advocacy and Communications Manager Aiman Rasheed called on the state to take “extraordinary measures” to regain the trust of the public. Citizens too must step up efforts to hold public officials accountable, he said.

Despite bleak findings, the survey shows citizens are interested in politics and are relatively knowledgeable about politics and active in the life of their communities.

Crisis of confidence

Maldivians gave political leaders a low score with none rating better than average. Former President Mohamed Nasheed received the highest rating at 48 percent while incumbent President Abdulla Yameen received the worst at 26 percent.

Maldives’ 30-year autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom received an average rating of 42 percent while Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim received a rating of 41 percent.

The survey also found Maldivians had more confidence in the state’s authoritative institutions than its representative institutions.

Respondents were significantly more likely to report they had more confidence in the army (34 percent) and the police (32 percent) than in political parties (8 percent) or parliament (11 percent).

The report, however, noted “striking” divisions on opinions regarding the security forces.

Although one third of respondents said they have “a great deal of confidence” in the army and police, the same proportions report they have “no confidence at all” in the army (29%) and the police (32%).

Maldivians are troubled by the status quo, the survey found, with 50 percent saying they are dissatisfied with the way democracy works. Meanwhile, 1 in 5 said they were “not at all satisfied” with democracy in the country.

Further, a staggering 84 percent said power is concentrated in the hands of too few people.

The Maldivian public is more likely to have negative associations with the idea of democracy than in other transitional democracies. A majority of respondents linked democracy with instability, poor economy and lack of order.

Meanwhile, 77 percent identified politic issues – which includes conflict, corruption, and the party system – to be the most important problem facing the country. In contrast, only 10 percent said crime was the biggest problem and 8 percent rated the economy and unemployment as the biggest challenge.

However, 90 percent believed dialogue is the way to solve the country’s problems. But 1 in 3 people did believe that violence is sometimes a necessary response to social injustice.

The survey also found that Maldivians scored significantly higher than other populations in their support for the value of individual responsibility at 73 percent. Support for gender equality was much lower at 38 percent, with women more likely to reject gender equality.

Generational differences

The survey results indicated a significant generational gap in attitudes towards democracy, with younger people systematically less likely to be satisfied with democracy than older people. 55 percent of those in the 18-25 age group said they were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.

Moreover, a majority of those less than 35 years of age said they have no confidence in representative institutions. Those over 46 years of age are twice as likely as their younger counterparts to say they have high levels of confidence in these institutions.

The young are markedly more cynical, but are more democratic in their outlook. They are more likely to disagree with idea that economies work poorly, less likely to think democracies are unstable and that “there is too much argument” in democracies.

Support for gender equality is significantly higher among the young.

Read the full report here.