Commonwealth, Indian election observers praise conduct of polls

International observers have broadly praised the conduct of Saturday’s election, notably the peaceful voting throughout the day and preparedness of the Elections Commission.

In their interim statement, the Commonwealth’s observer group labeled the election “inclusive and competitive, with freedoms of association, assembly and movement provided for.”

The team of 17 monitors from around the world visited 14 atolls and observed stations opening, voting, closing and counting of ballots, as well as monitoring the campaign period.

“It is clear that the Elections Commission was logistically well-prepared for this election. Election material was distributed in time to the atolls and overall the process was well-administered. It was positively noted that significant majority of polling officials were women,” read a statement given by the Chair of the Commonwealth’s observation group, former Prime Minister of Malta Dr Lawrence Gonzi.

The group described the voter register as “accurate and robust”: “Fears expressed by some political parties regarding possible large numbers of deceased voters and voters registered in the wrong geographic area seem to be unfounded, based on the low incidence of election day complaints,” said Gonzi.

The group did observe long wait times early in the day as many people turned up to vote early, but noticed that these had dropped around midday. The secrecy of voting was compromised in some situations by a lack of space, while despite improved procedures for handling assisted voting, this was handled inconsistently, the group noted.

Counting at polling stations was conducted transparently, “if slowly.”

“The vote count at the polling station was highly transparent with media monitors, party observers, and national and international observers able to scrutinise the process closely,” said Gonzi.

“The count process was conducted in a consistently transparent manner, with officials observed by the group demonstrating willingness to repeat steps in the process in response to concerns expressed by party observers.

“Polling officials were methodical in their approach, explaining decisions on any invalid ballots to those present.

It was noted that while the 1.1 percent of invalid ballots fell within international best practice, “the group noted that in some situations where the intent of the voter was clear, the ballot was invalidated as the mark was not the requisite check mark.”

While the legal framework provided for elections was sufficient, the group noted that “the absence of effective enforcement mechanisms for violations of the code of conduct for candidates and campaigners, and a lack of clarity and coordination between relevant institutions appears to have resulted in a lack of timely response to alleged violations.”

Minor disruptions due to campaigning were reported, “but these did not appear to be widespread.”

Noting the high voter turnout of 88 percent, the Commonwealth group praised the spirit of participation and strong commitment to the democratic process on behalf of the Maldivian people.

Television Maldives was also praised for treating all candidates fairly, particularly during the campaigning period. However coverage of the campaigns “by some privately-owned broadcast and print media generally reflected political bias. Many private television stations and newspapers (print and online) are owned by or associated with political actors, with content perceived as slanted towards the associated political party.”

Dr Gonzi would not comment on allegations that media had reported polling figures that did not reflect those of the Elections Commission during the vote counting, a discrepancy which led to a skirmish between police and Jumhoree Party officials outside the Dharubaruge convention centre prior to the release of the results at 5:00am on Sunday morning.

“The point we made in the statement refers more to the way the media handled the political campaign than the election day itself. Of course it is relevant itself, we are talking about the campaign and the conclusion we have come to is first of all that the national broadcasting station was fair, dealt fairly with the four candidates gave them equal access and in fact the feedback we got from representatives of the candidates was rather positive in this context. Hats off to the national service provider,” Dr Gonzi said.

The Commonwealth team did express concern about the use of negative rhetoric against some candidates by others, allegations of “financial and material support” provided to voters by some candidates, and “alleged inappropriate use of state resources”.

“A weak legal framework for electoral offences, combined with a lack of clarity regarding different institutions roles in addressing some electoral offences, limits the ability for some issues of concern to be adequately addressed in a timely manner,” Dr Gonzi noted.

The Commonwealth observers will return for the second round, and will make a final assessment following the conclusion of the process.

Indian observation team

Six teams of Indian observers, including four in and around Male, one on Hithadhoo, Maradhoo, Feydhoo, Meedhoo and Hulhudhoo in the Seenu Atoll (Addu) in the south and another on Kulhudhuffushi, Hanimadhoo, Dhidhoo and nearby islands in Haa Dhallu and Haa Alifu Atolls in the north, covering 33.6 percent of all booths.

“The polling was orderly and unblemished by any notable incident. It was also an enjoyable experience for the voter,” stated J M Lyngdoh of the Indian observer team.

“The voters’ lists were accurate and prominently displayed. The ballot boxes were opened and closed as per the scheduled time. The discipline, patience and dignity of the voter and the sheer competence, industry and cheerfulness of the election staff were quite admirable. The police were ubiquitous but discreetly non-intrusive,” he said.

“The counting did try everyone’s patience, each bundle of ballot papers having to be counted and recounted by Elections Commission personnel. The mutual trust between the candidates’ representatives on the one hand and between them and the counting personnel made adequate amends,” he added.

“The success in the first round is an achievement which any of the mature democracies would have been proud of. This was a transparent and fair election and there is no reason why the run off should be any less than the first round,” he concluded.

US statement

The US has also congratulated the Maldives on the conduct of the first round of voting.

“The very high voter turnout showed the strong commitment of the people of Maldives to democratic government,” said US State Department Deputy Spokesperson, Marie Harf.

“As the country prepares for a second round of voting on September 28, we call on all parties to respect the democratic process and continue to allow for a free, fair and peaceful vote to take place. This is the second presidential election since Maldives embraced multi-party democracy in 2008, and thus represents a historic opportunity for Maldivians to select democratically the representative of their choice,” Harf said.