Only 11,000 out of an estimated 65,000 Maldivians have registered to vote outside of their permanent residence for the September 7 presidential election, with many unregistered voters confident they will not encounter problems voting on election day.
Despite this confidence, many of these same voters have also cited confusion or a lack of awareness about registration and voting regulations.
While public response to the voter re-registration process has been poor, Maldivians can only re-register until August 7, after which time the window of opportunity will end, Elections Commission (EC) President Fuwad Thowfeek told local media.
“We urge everyone to pay special heed to the re-registration. Once the deadline ends, we won’t allow any more chances because we need to verify the forms as well,” Thowfeek explained.
The EC has received some registration forms from political parties that are taking part in the process, which Thowfeek hopes many people are using to re-register to vote prior to the deadline.
The 54,000 person voter registration shortfall has prompted the EC to establish a voter registration desk in the Raalhugandu area – Male’s surf point, adjacent to the Tsunami Monument in Henviru ward – openly nightly from 9:30pm to 11:00pm.
To try and understand what is preventing so many Maldivians from registering to vote, Minivan News spoke to a cross-section of youth – individuals between 18 and 35 years-old – and asked: 1) Whether they plan to vote in the September’s presidential election; 2) Where they plan to cast their vote; 3) If they have registered to vote in that location; 4) If they have checked the voter registration list previously published in the Government Gazette, or with the EC.
An overwhelming majority of those questioned expressed passionate excitement about the upcoming elections and said they plan to vote, and enthusiastically voiced support for a particular political party. However, many of the same individuals were unaware – and even unconcerned – about the voter re-registration process.
“Yeah, I’m gonna vote here in Male’. I think I’m registered, cause a guy from the [island] council talked about it and he took a photocopy of my ID card,” said a 20 year-old, originally from Haa Alif Atoll now living in Male’.
“I didn’t check the [voter registration] list. What does it contain – the list of people who can vote this year?” he asked.
Maldivians originally from the atolls now living in Male’ have also said they find the voter registration process for the Male’ Dhaftharu – a special registry for people who are Male’ residents, but are from other islands – to be “too complicated” or “time consuming”.
“‘Ehburun’ – I support the [Maldivian Democratic Party] (MDP)!” exclaimed a 25 year-old safari boat worker from Shaviyani Atoll, who lives in Male’ with his wife and young children.
He said he plans to vote but has had “no time” to research the voter registration process or check the voter registration list and juggle family and work responsibilities. His wife is also politically passionate, and believes they will have no issues voting on election day, but has not checked the voter registry.
Numerous individuals do not think they need to re-register to vote, especially if they voted in a recent election or if they plan to vote on their home island.
“I will be registered on my island. I’ll be able to walk into the polling station on my island and vote, no problem. I have not checked [the status of] my registration, because there’s no need,” said a 22 year-old who is working and studying in Male’.
This sentiment was reflected almost verbatim by a 21 year-old from Meemu Atoll who works in a private business office in Male’: “I don’t know if I’m registered, but there’s no need. I’ll go to my island on election day and be able to vote no problem.”
Those who plan to travel back to their home islands to vote are completely confident political parties will provide boat transport on election day, and that weather causing rough seas will not be a problem.
Those who plan to travel to their islands – from atolls in the far north to the far south of the Maldives – are indiscriminate about which political party boat they will take, even if it means they will be accepting transport from a party they will not be voting for.
University students studying in Male’ have also told Minivan News that because “transportation is difficult” they are currently looking for scheduled trips to their home islands, but will ultimately have to seek out political party boats traveling from Male’ to the islands on election day. The transport provided by political parties tends to be more “luxurious” than regular ferries, some said.
These college students feel because they are studying full time, and many simultaneously work full time jobs, the EC registration process is too complicated and not flexible enough to accommodate their schedules.
Additionally, they “do not trust political parties enough to register through them”.
Meanwhile, many resort workers are still unsure of the location they will be voting and therefore have not registered to vote.
“I’m not sure if there will be a ballot box on the resort. We have not been informed by the resort management,” said a water sports instructor working on a resort near Male’.
He explained that the Maldivian staff also have not been informed if the resort will provide time off or transportation to another island to vote – and they were not notified during the 2008 presidential election either.
“I want to vote, but even if I knew where I should be voting, I only get one day off, so I cannot come to Male’ to register,” the water-sports instructor added. “There needs to be an online registration system.”
Another resort worker noted that he recalls a voter registration SMS reminder “bouncing around a while back”, but is still unclear on whether he even needs to register to be eligible to vote.
The EC earlier revealed that only 56 of the country’s 100 resort islands had agreed to allow ballot boxes for staff to vote.
“As an alternative, we’ll place boxes in the islands closest inhabited island and they’ll send their employees [to vote],” Thowfeek said at the time. “Resorts cannot stop their staff from going [to vote] because we have an understanding, an arrangement with them. If they try to stop [their employees from voting] we will take the necessary actions [against them].”
Traveling abroad for work during election has also created problems for some Maldivians.
“If we travel we will miss the election. There should be an early voting system,” said a 25 year-old working in Male’.
Even individuals actively involved in campaigning for a particular political party and assisting with the voter registration process for their constituency are not entirely clear about the re-registration process.
“I’m not sure when the deadline is,” said a 23 year-old campaign volunteer who works in Male’.
“I’m definitely voting for MDP,” declared one 22 year-old in Male’, however though he said he has been very active organising various events – political and non-political – in his neighborhood, he did not think he needed to register to vote.
While the lack of voter registration awareness has not deterred many Maldivian youth from confidently believing they will be able to vote on September 7 without issue, there are some individuals who feel so politically disenfranchised they are choosing not to vote.
“It won’t matter whether I vote, nothing changes for us, we are mistreated by police under every government administration,” said a 22 year-old working in Male’. “Only politicians and their friends have rights, no one else does.”
“I don’t feel like voting since no one will be willing to do anything good for the citizens. When it comes to voting, they’ll tell us it’s our right. But when we go to get our rights, there’s no rights for us,” said a 23 year-old Maldivian studying abroad in Sri Lanka.
“For instance, what about the parents of the murdered guys? Where do they go to get justice for their murdered sons?” he asked.
“You see there’s no candidate that I would like to vote for. I hate each and every one. Everyone [running for president] is out for their own good, no one is going to help the country develop. Neither is any citizen going to get benefits,” he added.
Some Maldivians are planning to vote if the elections continue on to a second round, but say they do not think it is necessary to vote in the first round.
“MDP has so many supporters they don’t need my vote. Ehburun! But if they don’t win in the first round, then I’ll vote in the second,” said a 25 year-old Male’ resident.
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.