Ruling party wins Alifushi by-election amid bribery claims

The  ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) has won a council by-election in Raa atoll Alifushi amid accusations of vote-buying and a high-profile handout of air-conditioners to the local school.

PPM candidate Aminath Ali won 685 votes at the by-election held on Saturday, while Ali Hameed, the candidate from the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), received 490 votes of a total 1175 valid votes cast.

However, the MDP said it had not been a fair fight, as members of the PPM had donated air-conditioners and cash to the island school shortly before the vote. They also alleged that vote-buying had taken place.

The MP for Alifushi constituency, Mohamed “Bigey” Rasheed Hussein, told Minivan News: “PPM did not campaign. They bought votes and used tactics of anti-campaigning.”

A government delegation that included ministers and parliamentarians visited Alifushi two weeks before the by-election and handed MVR 10,000 from First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim to the island school, while presenting the donation of air-conditioners.

Asked about the air-con systems, Ahmed Nihan, leader of the PPM parliamentary group, said: “The ACs were gifts from Abdul Raheem Abdulla [vice president of the PPM].”

“Members giving out gifts is not intended for corruption or to influence the election,” he added.

Nihan said that MPs being socially involved and helping citizens did not constitute a reason to accuse them of corruption, and denied any connection with the vote.

The PPM’s election win in an opposition stronghold parliamentary constituency indicated the growing support for the government, despite the recent coalition between MDP and former PPM allies, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party and Jumhooree Party.

“This is a government win over the MDP, Adhaalath Party and the Jumhooree Party, over all opposition parties. We are very proud since we won this election at a time when all of these parties were on the island campaigning against us,” PPM deputy leader and tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb said.

A landmark study by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) found last year that more than one in three Maldivians were offered bribes for their votes or witnessed vote buying in the March 2014 parliamentary polls.

It said vote buying in the Maldives had assumed “alarming proportions”.

Accusations also surrounded a visit by Ahmed Sulaiman, president of the elections commission, to Alifushi, with the MDP claiming he was involved in door-to-door campaigning for the PPM.

According to, the elections commission said Sulaiman was at Alifushi on an official visit and that they had no knowledge of wrongdoing.

During the campaigns, the two parties traded blows over the unfulfilled promise of a sewerage system for the island, with PPM representatives blaming Rasheed, the MP, who voted against the overall government budget in parliament.

Rasheed said, however, that it was down to the government to fulfil its promise of a sewerage system. “They should work according to their word,” he said.

Rasheed said he did not believe vote-rigging could have taken place on by-election day, as observers from both parties were present at polling stations.

PPM president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was president of the Maldives for 30 years until 2008, congratulated the PPM candidate via Twitter, saing: “Warm congratulations PPM candidate Aminath Ali on a resounding victory in Alifushi council by-election today.”

The councillor’s position on Alifushi became vacant when Abdul Latheef Abdul Raheem, also with the PPM, resigned.

PPM will be holding a firework display, its customary celebration, on Alifushi tonight.


Majlis elections: “Money politics threatens to hijack democratic process”, says Transparency Maldives

Yesterday’s parliamentary elections were well-administered and transparent “but wider issues of money politics threatens to hijack [the] democratic process,” NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) has said in its preliminary statement on the Majlis polls.

TM revealed that a survey conducted prior to last year’s presidential election showed that 15 percent of respondents had been offered “money or other incentives” in exchange for their vote.

“Admissions about illegal activities such as this are usually underreported in surveys. TM’s long-term observation indicates that vote buying may be even more widespread in the parliamentary elections than other elections,” the statement read.

“Inability of state institutions to prosecute vote buying due to gaps in the electoral legal framework, lack of coordination, and buck-passing between the relevant institutions have allowed rampant vote buying to go unchecked.”

The NGO recommended that vote buying should be monitored, investigated and prosecuted “through implementation of the existing legal provisions” in addition to parliament considering “urgent reforms to the laws to better address the issue.”

While voting was ongoing yesterday, police arrested an individual near a polling station for allegedly distributing cash.

Police also revealed two days before the polls that it was increasingly receiving reports of vote buying.

Cash and gifts were allegedly being handed out on behalf of candidates for parliament, police said.

Meanwhile, speaking at a press conference today, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb – deputy leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives – categorically denied allegations that candidates representing the Progressive Coalition bought votes.

Coalition supporters have submitted complaints “with photo and video as proof” to the Elections Commission (EC) about the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party distributing cash for votes, Adeeb alleged.

Campaign finance reform

TM also noted a lack of transparency in political and campaign financing ahead of elections, which was exacerbated by “deep flaws in the standards, practices and poor oversight”.

“When political parties and individual candidates do not fully disclose where they get their money from, it is not clear who funds them, what their potential conflict of interests are, and, thereby allows vested interests to override public interest when elected as MPs,” TM observed.

It added that Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer surveys for the Maldives “continue to indicate a crisis of public trust in the parliament.”

“Increasing campaign financing transparency in parliamentary elections is crucial to hold parliamentarians to account, in order to prevent the hijack of the institution by vested interests and regain public trust in the parliament,” the statement read.

In addition to identifying and addressing “the gaps in the electoral legal framework,” the NGO recommended “implementation of existing provisions to facilitate public scrutiny, ensure periodic reporting and an effective oversight mechanism for political finance.”

Among other issues that the NGO highlighted included the abuse of state resources “by successive regimes,” which allows campaigning on public funds, and lack of effective longterm voter and civic education.

TM also noted “uncertainties arising from the role of the judiciary in elections,” suggesting that the 16-point guideline imposed on the EC by the Supreme Court last year did not “improve upon the technical aspects of the election”.


TM observed that yesterday’s polls were peaceful, transparent and generally well-administered “with just one reported incident of violence inside a polling station.”

Among the NGO’s key findings from its observation of the voting process, TM noted that 83.52 percent of polling stations closed within the first hour of the normal closing time of 4:00pm and that the eligible voter registry was “overall very clean, with a very few cases where people were not able to vote because their names were not on the voter registry or their details did not match.”

Candidates from the opposition MDP were represented at 89.4 percent of polling stations and coalition parties at 88.8 percent, the statement noted.

“Unresolved disputes were reported at only 5.3 percent ballot boxes at the time of announcing results,” it added.

TM noted that voting was temporarily halted in 2.4 percent of polling stations, of which 75 percent were “interventions at the direction of the Presiding Officer while 25 percent were interventions by an unruly voter.”

“We note that the police entered 12.35 percent of polling stations. However, in 100 percent of such cases, interventions occurred at the invitation of the Presiding Officer as the rules allow.”

Meanwhile, according to the EC, a total of 115 complaints were submitted in writing to the national complaints bureau, including 18 concerning the voter registry and 33 complaints regarding negative campaigning, behaviour of election officials, and campaigning during polling hours.

In addition, 59 complaints were made via telephone, EC member Ali Mohamed Manik revealed at a press conference last night.

Manik explained that the complaints would be addressed before preliminary results are announced today.


Jumhoree Party rejects accusations of campaign bribery

The Jumhoree Party (JP) has rejected accusations of directly giving money or any other incentive to the public during campaigning for the upcoming presidential election, after several rivals raised concerns.

Both the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have slammed the JP this week, accusing senior campaigners in the party of directly providing money and goods to the public to try and buy votes.

JP Deputy Leader Dr Ibrahim Didi today told Minivan News that “no donations” had been made through the campaign offices of its presidential candidate Gasim Ibrahim or his coalition partners ahead of polling, scheduled for September 7.

He insisted that although donations such as scholarships and school equipment had continued to be given through the Villa Foundation – a charity established by Gasim – these were not political gestures.

Didi claimed that, as well as sending some 200 Villa scholars abroad, the foundation – which is run separately from the JP – had for decades been providing vital equipment to schools and health centres across the country independently of the JP.

Gasim will stand in the election as the candidate for a coalition of parties including the JP, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party, and the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP).

“Dumping money”

The PPM, whose presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen will be standing against Gasim next month, has alleged that the JP has been providing donations directly from its campaign office in the build up to September’s vote, effectively “dumping money” in certain parts of the country.

PPM MP Ahmed Nihan claimed that while he respected the work of Gasim’s Villa Foundation in the Maldives, there had been “very clear” attempts by the coalition of parties backing his election to offer voters financial incentives, particularly over the last one and a half months.

“I do not think it is the Villa Foundation that has been providing televisions and refrigerators to households,” Nihan said.

Nihan, who reiterated his respect for Gasim as a fellow parliamentarian and one of the country’s highest profile business figures, said that the level of donations being made by the presidential candidate and his supporters was “questionable” for a democratic system.

“One of Gasim’s main plus points is that he has lots of money. He is definitely using it,” he said.

Nihan accused Gasim of trying to financially influence voting, both for the upcoming election and during the country’s first multi-party democratic vote in 2008, arguing that a growing number of young voters between the ages of 19 and 35 years would be aware of attempts to influence them.

He argued that the PPM’s island council by-election victory against the JP in Nolhivaram in Haa Dhaalu Atoll on Saturday (August 24) had indicated that Gasim’s alleged spending and donations would not translate to polling success.

“We are running a democratic campaign. We don’t have the money to provide televisions and refrigerators like the JP,” he added.

Nihan alleged that the majority of Gasim’s political supporters were only interested in profiting from the tycoon by getting what he claimed was a “quick buck” ahead of voting, and cited his previous unsuccessful campaign to stand for the presidency in 2008.

“[These supporters] will abandon Gasim after the election just like what happened in 2008,” he said.

Gasim unsuccessfully contested in the 2008 presidential elections finishing the race in fourth place, with 15.2 percent of the total vote.

He finished behind candidates including then President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, eventual winner Mohamed Nasheed, and the current JP running mate, Dr Hassan Saeed.

Official complaint

The opposition MDP, represented in the upcoming election by former President Nasheed, has filed a case with the country’s Elections Commission (EC) concerning campaigning by Gasim’s coalition.

MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor accused the JP of “unashamedly” trying to buy votes for the election.

“They believe this is how it has to be done. You give people things and they will vote for you,” he said. “They are oblivious to the fact that the world has changed. We are hearing that some people might accept money [they are offered by a candidate] and still vote for the candidate they want.”

The MDP also today criticised First Lady Ilham Hussain over reports in local media that she had donated MVR 100,000 (US$6500) to Mulaku School in Meemu Atoll, accusing her of trying to buy votes for President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s campaign.

Abbas Adil Riza, a spokesperson for President Waheed’s Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP) was not responding to calls at time of press.

Addressing complaints filed over campaign spending, Elections Commissioner  Fuwad Thowfeek today told newspaper Haveeru that any kind of donations by candidates contesting in next month’s presidential vote could potentially undermine the electoral process.

Thowfeek said that in light of allegations of bribery being raised with the commission, he believed it would be best to halt “social assistance” until voting next month had concluded.


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.


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.


Umar Naseer alleges PPM primaries rigged, declares “war within the party”

Former Interim Deputy Leader of the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), Umar Naseer, has declared a “war within the party” against the “dark forces” he claimed had taken root within the party and vowed to bring in a “white revolution” to cleanse it from what he alleged included drug lords, gangsters and corruption rings.

Naseer made the remarks during a rally held on Tuesday evening, following his humiliating defeat in the PPM’s presidential primary.

The former military sergeant was at the losing end of the party’s primary held to determine its official presidential candidate, gaining just 7,450 votes – 5,646 votes less than his rival, the Parliamentary Group Leader of PPM MP Yameen Abdul Gayoom, who won with 13,096 votes – 63 percent of the vote.

Naseer – who is one of the founding members of the PPM – told supporters he had to battle the “entire machine” of the party during the primary, claiming that his opponent had every advantage in the race.

“Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s children were with Yameen, the largest gangsters in the country were with Yameen, all the drug cartels in the country were with Yameen, the most corrupted people were with Yameen, the whole elections committee was with Yameen and a large chunk of PPM’s parliament members gathered around Yameen.

“We came out knowing that the referee, the linesman and even the match commissioner along with his 11 players were playing on his side. Our team had the poor and the middle class players,” Naseer claimed.

Even though Naseer admitted defeat, he claimed the party’s election had huge discrepancies including influencing of voters, vote buying and intimidation of his supporters.  He also alleged that many of his supporters were denied the right to vote, claiming that their names had not been on the lists.

“We even witnessed that those who are heavily involved in drug trafficking were present at the polling station wearing Yameen’s campaign caps,” he said. “Not only did they exert undue influence, they travelled to islands with stashes of black money and attempted to turn the votes. In fact they even did turn some votes.”

Naseer further alleged that the hands of the elections officials involved in administrating the elections were tainted and had played a significant part in his defeat.

“On Kelaa in Haa Alif Atoll, they added the remaining ballot papers as votes for Yameen. On Fodhdhoo in Noonu Atoll, they took ballot papers that had my name ticked and invalidated it by ticking next to Yameen’s name. No ballot box was placed on Thulhaadhoo in Baa Atoll, but astonishingly results came from that island too,” he claimed.

“White revolution”

Despite the discrepancies, Naseer contended that he would not take a “single step back” and would remain firm in cleansing it of “dark forces”.

Naseer claimed his team would bring about a “white revolution” within the party, and declared war against corruption and gangs within PPM.

“This battle will be fought within PPM’s grounds and this battle will also be won within the lines of PPM,” he claimed, as supporters roared in support.

Naseer stated that although he had congratulated Yameen regardless of how he had won the primary, Naseer warned that he would not back him should he associate himself with people Naseer believed were corrupt.

Referring to recent remarks made by the Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim – who claimed that he would join PPM very soon – Umar Naseer expressed his concern over “people who are renowned for corruption” joining the party.

“Remember, I told you about a corruption network. In just less than 24 hours after our colleague Yameen won the PPM primary, the most notorious figure within this corruption network, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Nazim, announces that he is joining the PPM. This is not a sheer coincidence,” Naseer claimed.

“I want to tell my colleague Yameen that he will never get my support if he keeps corrupt people like Nazim behind him. Some people may say that certain things should be done in the party interest, but there are times where this country should be bigger than the party to us,” he said.

“Money money cash cash okay?”

Meanwhile, in an audio clip of a phone conversation leaked to social media, a profession Yameen supporter attempts to buy the votes of Naseer supporters through a person identified in the clip as Ahmed ‘Mujey’ Mujthaba.

Mujthaba – who seemed to have been involved in Yameen’s primary election campaign on Gemanafushi in Gaaf Alif Atol – was given instructions to trade cash for votes on the island.

According to the audio recording, MVR 300,000 (US$ 19,455.25) was wired to Mujthaba, of which he was to distribute MVR 200,000 (US$ 12,970.17) among potential voters while he was to keep the remaining MVR 100,000 (US$ 6,485.08) for himself as “a small reward”.

“Hey Mujey, don’t tell this to anyone,” speaks a voice, who identifies himself as ‘Ismael’ and claims to be one of Yameen’s campaign managers.

“Not even a single person okay Mujey? This is between me and Mujey. This is between us.  What you should do is, distribute the 200,000 rufiyaa. The remaining 100,000 rufiyaa you keep it to yourself. Okay? You should do this very secretly, no one should know about this.”

Ismael is also heard asking Mujthaba to “destroy PPM MP Ilham Ahmed’s family” during the process. MP Ilham – who is the MP for Gemanafushi Island constituency – had supported Umar Naseer in the primaries.

Mujthaba claims that MP Ilham’s brothers in Male’ had called PPM members on the island and had said “they would give them a two-way ticket to India in return for vote”, to which Ismael responded that Ilham did not have the funds to pay such a large sum of money.

“They can’t give that to them now. They won’t have money even close to the amount of money we have. Not even close to ours. They’ll just keep bragging about that. So what you should do is go to their houses. Just go to their houses and wire in the cash and get all the votes. What you can do today is all that you can do, okay? There will be nothing else we can do after today,”

“Hey, you will also get a reward. If we can do this, you will get 100,000 rufiyaa, we have decided that. We have decided to give you 100,000 rufiyaa if you win this vote for us Mujey. Isn’t it a good reward?” he added. “Yes, if you can get the majority from that Island, you will get 100,000 rufiyaa,”

“Money money cash cash okay?” Ismael was repeatedly heard to say.

Minivan News sought to verify the authenticity of the recording, however Yameen and his campaign team were not responding to calls at time of press.

Speaking to Minivan News, Youth Wing Leader of PPM Ahmed Nazim – who is also involved in Umar Naseer’s campaign team – said that he did not wish to comment on the matter.

Translation of the audio clip

ISMAEL: Hey I am saying, everything is going alright now is it?

AHMED MUJTHABA: Yes. It will be alright

ISMAEL: So, how are things with opponents? [Repeatedly asks]

AHMED MUJTHABA: They are also there. They will also work in their capacity right?

ISMAEL: Not too many [people] right?

AHMED MUJTHABA: We are all good here. Not too many [people] working with them.

ISMAEL: I’ve called to arrange some cash.

AHMED MUJTHABA: I don’t think it is going to be very bad.

ISMAEL: Why? We have been getting information that Umar’s people are really weak.

AHMED MUJTHABA: Yeah. Last night, some of his supporters roamed around the island with cash. They even showed us the cash too. I don’t have any guarantee on their success; some people did not even accept the money.

ISMAEL: But for us…

AHMED MUJTHABA: They went to the house with the money.

ISMAEL: Aah…If they accept the money they would obviously vote in that manner. That is a big problem isn’t it? So, we also have to do that from our side, give a little bit more.


ISMAEL: Mujey we can arrange 200,000 rufiyaa immediately if you want.

AHMED MUJTHABA: We won’t be able to get it by today right?

ISMAEL: No. You can get it through Sheesha Ahmed. Isn’t Ahmed’s family [living] there, his wife’s family?


ISMAEL: So when you say you want, handing over the money to Ahmed gets the job done.


ISMAEL: So what should I do?

AHMED MUJTHABA: Well, then let me talk to others and call back?

ISMAEL: No wait, I have a condition too. You will have to destroy MP Ahmed Ilham’s family in the process. Can you do that?

AHMED MUJTHABA: Wait, he was the one who got me a job. He was very upset with me. My family members have called me bull shit.

ISMAEL: Is it?

AHMED MUJTHABA: So destroy these people.

ISMAEL: That is why I have come out with courage.

AHMED MUJTHABA: Yes, this time this family should be destroyed. You have to be able to do this.

ISMAEL: He will be gone this time. This time very sure…yeah?

AHMED MUJTHABA:  This is something you should be able to do. On the other hand, islanders, people from your area are quite stupid. You should be able to control these people.

ISMAEL: I have a big family in this island. Our family is not an ordinary family. All our family members are against him. No one will be there to support them. That’s why, when it became intolerable, they have come out with cash.

AHMED MUJTHABA: Ilham’s brothers in Male have called us and said that they would give two-way ticket to India in return for vote. That is the level they had gone to. So they are very very desperate.

ISMAEL: They can’t give that to them now. They won’t have money even close to the amount of money we have. Not even close to ours. They’ll just keep bragging about that. So what you should do is go to their houses. Just go to their houses and wire in the cash and get all the votes. What you can do today is all that you can do, okay? There will be nothing else we can do after today.

ISMAEL: Then, people in your area are really dumb, isn’t it? Usually islanders are very dumb isn’t it? They have been made dumb and stupid.

ISMAEL: Hey, you will also get a reward. If we can do this, you will get 100,000 rufiyaa, we have decided that. We have decided to give you 100,000 rufiyaa if you win this vote for us Mujey. Isn’t it a good reward?

AHMED MUJTHABA: We will win you the votes from here. I am guaranteeing you that you will get majority from this island.

ISMAEL: Yes, if you can get the majority from that Island, you will get 100,000 rufiyaa. What?

AHMED MUJTHABA: I don’t want money for doing that.

ISMAEL: Yeah yeah…

[Voice becomes unclear as two begins to talk at the same time]

ISMAEL:  Hey listen to this. This money is something that is a secret between you and me. People giving money, this is not related to this. You should not tell this to even your friends.


ISMAEL: Understood?


ISMAEL: This is not something I am giving to your group or people helping you. So this shall remain between us only. This is how the boss as has asked me to do, okay?

AHMED MUJTHABA: Hmm… You called last night as well right?

ISMAEL: Yeah. Yes. Hey bro, [repeatedly calls]. Money money cash cash alright? Understood?


ISMAEL: Money money cash cash okay?

AHMED MUJTHABA: Don’t worry. I am saying you will get majority from this island by the will [of God].

ISMAEL: Yeah…Yeah.

AHMED MUJTHABA: You wait and see at 4:00pm today. I will call you today.

ISMAEL: Ahh…very good.

[Separate phone call]

ISMAEL: Is it Mujey ?

AHMED MUJTHABA: Yeah yeah true, it is Mujey.

ISMAEL: I called you, Ismael.


ISMAEL: Yeah, I said issue with money has been settled and finished. The money has been given to Ahmed. Who would be receiving the money from your end?

AHMED MUJTHABA: I don’t mind giving it to me. You can give this number.

ISMAEL:  Ah okay. So I should give your number right?


ISMAEL: What should I say? You should tell your full name Mujey. Then only isn’t it we can settle it.

AHMED MUJTHABA: Yes. Ahmed Mujthaba. Note it down.

ISMAEL:  Ahmed Mujthaba right?

AHMED MUJTHABA: Yes…Mujthaba. Should I give you my ID Card Number?

ISMAEL: Yes, tell me your ID Card Number [Mujthaba gives his ID Card Number]

ISMAEL: 2881…okay. Hey Mujey, don’t tell this to anyone. [Speaks in a hush voice] Not even a single person okay Mujey? This is between me and Mujey. This is between us.  What you should do is, distribute the 200,000 rufiyaa. The remaining 100,000 rufiyaa you keep it to yourself. Okay? You should do this very secretly, no one should know about this.


ISMAEL: Remember okay?


ISMAEL: Alright then. We will inform the person that you will go to collect the money. Okay, take your ID Card with you.


ISMAEL: Thank you bro!


Indian election officials to tackle Maldives “vote-buying” culture, civic education

The Elections Commission of India (ECI) and the Elections Commission of the Maldives (EC) have agreed on a roadmap for cooperation that includes jointly developing an assistance project to enable free and fair elections later this year.

In response to an request, the Deputy Election Commissioner of India, Dr Alok Shukla, and Chief Electoral Officer of Uttar Pradesh, Mr Umesh Sinha, have been in the Maldives since March 4.  The delegation have spent the last eight days studying the EC.

“The EC asked the team of ECI to suggest measures for better implementation of the strategic plan of the [Maldives’ Election] Commission,” reads a joint press statement.

The ECI delegation issued a report identifying areas the EC needs to develop and improve.  These include; staff shortages, training needs, and the lack of information technology software. Vote buying is another important issue being addressed, the EC’s President Fuad Thaufeeq explained to Minivan News.

“We need more assistance from ECI. They have offered the most training programs [of any other actor or institution] over the last two years.

“India has had a continuous democracy for a long period of time. They have a lot of experience with democracy and conducting elections,” Thaufeeq stated.

He further emphasised that the EC is ready to work with individual organisations and any “friendly neighboring country” to strengthen their capacity and will “make good use” of the technical assistance offered.

“It would be to the Maldives’ advantage to have assistance from any country developed in elections and democracy.  Any assistance and guidance provided by any organisation – the United Nations, Commonwealth, European Union – would be much appreciated,” Thaufeeq added.

Vote-buying culture

Speaking to Minivan News, Dr Alok Shukla said that preventing voter “buy-offs” and improving civic education were two “big” challenges about which the EC was “extremely concerned”.

“Vote-buying is a worldwide phenomenon – it is almost everywhere – so one cannot say it is not happening in the Maldives,” he said.

“We had detailed discussions and the EC was very receptive to prevention and control strategies regarding campaign finance, elections monitoring, and vote buying,” stated Shukla.

Thaufeeq echoed Shukla’s sentiments regarding these corruption issues.

“Vote-buying is something experienced in every country. These types of actions are taken in secret, there’s hardly any way to prove it has happened,” Thaufeeq remarked.

“However, conducting voter education programs will minimise this from occurring.  The poor and disadvantaged are particularly vulnerable,” he added.

“We need to bring awareness to the public that this is a crime. No one should sell his or her vote to get a few rufiyaa.”

Election results in the Maldives since 2008 have been widely declared credible by local and international observers, in large part due to a crackdown on practices such as photographing ballots with camera phones, and ‘assisting’ elderly or infirm relatives to vote. However, undemocratic activities in the lead up to polling – such as vote buying, patronage and intimidation – are rampant.

Minivan News observed many such activities first-hand during the Kaashidoo by-elections in April 2012.

Capacity building

The EC and ECI have also both emphasised the need for staff capacity building training to ensure civic education programs are successful.

“Voter education for staff is important, such as courses on how to produce [awareness] materials so the public will easily look and get the message,” said Thaufeeq.

He also emphasised the need for information technology software – and the ECI’s development assistance – for voter registration, political party membership registration, and election related items.

“If the software was made for these purposes then it’s going to make work simpler, more efficient, and less time consuming.  There would not be much room for corruption or misuse of [registration] lists,” Thaufeeq explained.

The ECI also identified voter education as a “big problem,” and highlighted the need for capacity building, as well as monitoring the electoral environment.

“Experience sharing,” EC staff training and capacity building, as well as assisting the Maldives to develop the necessary software are some of the areas in which the ECI can provide assistance, according to Shukla.

Indian support

The ECI delegation have  spoke of their continued cooperation and “good engagement” with the EC to assist in any way requested.

“The ECI and Indian government are very happy to cooperate. We have a very long-standing friendship between the Maldivian and Indian people,” stated Shukla.

The ECI gave the EC a detailed presentation and report on March 10, stating their findings about the EC’s functioning and recommendations for potential improvement.

The recommendations outlined practices to “prepare for the Presidential Elections and the Local Council Elections in 2013 by strengthening weak areas of Commission Administration; identify new processes and methodologies for ECM to improve voter confidence and reduce election related complaints; and identify ways in which the EC and ECI can work together for improvement,” reads the joint press release.

“The EC will nominate one ‘nodal officer’ to work with the ECI, as well as write and submit a detailed project proposal for ECI assistance,” explained Shukla.

Thaufeeq clarified that the EC will design the project based on the ECI’s recommendations and the EC’s contextual needs.

“The proposal will be finalised in a month-and-a-half at the earliest. Six weeks are needed to draft the document,” Thaufeeq stated.

In the interim, the ECI said it agreed that the EC had the capacity to conduct free and fair elections.

“Yes, the EC has the capacity to conduct elections, but there is always room for improvement,” said Shukla.

“We are working toward holding elections September 7, however we are ready to conduct elections at any time,” stated Thaufeeq.

Transparency Maldives has said it will conduct an extensive program of election monitoring during the 2013-14 elections in a bid to ensure polls are fair and credible.


Covering Kaashidhoo’s ‘buy-election’

When I arrived on Kaashidhoo Island on the evening of Friday April 13, the constituency’s parliamentary by-election campaign was already going full swing.

A billboard of Jumhooree Party (JP) candidate Abdulla Jabir, as tall as the island’s coconut palms, dominated the harbor front. Numerous red flags in support of Jabir and yellow flags in support of Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) Ahmed ‘Dhonbiley’ Haleem were strung from every harbor light, tree and café on the beach. The island rang with the cacophony of campaign music and speeches.

The crescent shaped island of Kaashidhoo lies 88 kilometers north of Malé city. Densely forested, it is home to a population of 1700 people, most of them farmers. Together with Gaafaru Island to the south, Kaashidhoo Island comprises one of the 77 parliamentary constituencies in the country. Its previous MP, Ismail Abdul Hameed, was removed from his seat in February 2012 after being found guilty of corruption.

My colleague Daniel Bosley and I had come to observe the by-election, scheduled for the following day, April 14.

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.

We had hitched a ride to Kaashidhoo with Dhonbiley’s campaign team. The speed boat was full of burly young men who said they were Dhonbiley’s security.

“The situation is pretty bad,” a curly-haired man had told us. He estimated there were more than 30 policemen on the island for the vote. The night before, a fight had broken out between Jabir and Dhonbiley’s supporters, leading to one man’s arrest.

The by-election was the first poll since the controversial transfer of power on February 7. The MDP alleged President Mohamed Nasheed had been deposed in a coup d’état, and had called for fresh elections.

New President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s administration meanwhile maintained that the country’s institutions, including the elections commission, were not ready to hold free and fair elections. Hence for many, the by-election was a test of the country’s capacity to hold peaceful polls.

Our contact on Kaashidhoo was 18 year-old Ahmed Fazeel*, a student living in Male’, who greeted us when we arrived. He told us we would have to wait for accommodation as the island’s guest-houses and rented rooms were full for the night.

Resort workers and islanders living in Male’ had come back to Kaashidhoo for the vote. Fazeel said more than eight speedboats had ferried people from Male’ to Kaashidhoo that day alone. As we sat in Fazeel’s front yard among stone-apple and mango trees, he told us tensions were high on the island.

“There’s a lot of conflict. Political competitiveness has become extreme to the point people are at each other’s throats,” Fazeel said. “I will vote for Dhonbiley because he gave my aunt medical assistance.” His aunt has a common blood disorder in the Maldives, Thalassemia.

In the distance we saw JP leader and business tycoon Gasim Ibrahim leading a march of men, women and children clothed in red, chanting slogans in support of Jabir. Gasim and Jabir had laid the foundation for a city hotel to be built on the island.

Local media had reported the hotel was a Rf 34 million (US$2.2 million) investment. Jabir pledged the hotel would be completed within 18 months and that a Kaashidhoo-based company would manage the hotel. He had also established a state-of-the-art football pitch on Gaafaru Island on April 9.

“We cannot trust Jabir, he has laid many foundations like that, in his previous constituency as well,” Fazeel’s uncle Mohamed Saleem* told us. Smoking a cigarette, he said he had initially supported Jabir. The MDP had fronted Jabir as a candidate until he swapped parties after the transfer of power.

“Jabir only donated six-air conditioning units to the mosque. But Dhonbiley donated over Rf 100,000 (US$6500) rufiya,” Saleem continued. “Also, Jabir first said he will build a resort, then said a 5-star luxury hotel, and now it’s simply a guesthouse.”

That night we met Mohamed Shahid* an MDP supporter, in a dimly-lit cafe for dinner. A TV on the cafe wall showed scenes of yellow-clad MDP supporters marching in support of Dhinbiley through the narrow streets of Kaashidhoo.

Shahid, 21, made a living from diving for sea-cucumbers. For him, the biggest problem the island faced was a lack of job opportunities.

“The people of this island will vote for money, they don’t have any principles,” Shahid said. “The problem is that people want to force you to vote for who they support. Everyone should have the right to vote for whoever they want,” he told us. “Arguments within families have gone to the point that people are losing face.”

“Both parties are handing out cash, in the guise of extending assistance for medical care. Some people even use the money for drugs.” Shahid said.

He said heroin addiction rate was high among Kaashidhoo’s youth population.

Shahid said he had at first supported Jabir. “But Jabir does not fulfill his promises. He first approached the youth cub, Ekuverige Tharika, and gave the club Rf 20,000 (US$1300). Nothing else. But Dhonbiley gives us coffee, petrol for motorbikes and phone credit. It’s very easy. Even the island’s harbor was started under President Mohamed Nasheed,” he said.

The harbor had been damaged in the South Asian tsunami of 2004, and construction of a new harbor had started in 2012.

After dinner, we ventured out through the sandy streets of the island. Candidates had to cease campaigning for votes by 6:00pm on the eve of polling; hence, the island was fairly quiet. However, people continued to mill around the campaign offices.

Outside Jabir’s brightly lit campaign office, we met Mariyam Sheeza* , 31, who told us she supported Jabir because he had promised to bring development to Kaashidhoo.

“Jabir is building a guesthouse. We only have agriculture on the island. But this hotel will create jobs, especially for women,” she said. Sheeza said she had four children to support and the guesthouse would give her the opportunity to earn some money.

“Dhonbiley does not check on the people. He does not know if the people have a second meal in a day or whether we sleep on the floor or on mattresses,” she said. Moreover, she said Dhonbiley only worked for MDP supporters’ benefit.

“When MDP was in power, 388 farmers asked for subsidies, but Dhonbiley gave subsidies to only 150 farmers. The subsidies were only given to MDP supporters. We don’t know what happened to more than Rf 22,000,” she said.

“Dhonbiley ate the subsidies,” shouted a group of men lounging on joalis within the campaign office. At that point, a lanky man came up to us and said JP leader Gasim Ibrahim had invited us in. As we walked in, he showed me a large bloody graze on his arm. He had sustained the injury in the previous night’s scuffle. “MDP paid Rf 2000 (US$130) to some young man to beat me up,” he told me.

Gasim, a hefty bespectacled man and one of the country’s wealthiest resort tycoons, was sitting with a group of men at a broad white table under a white canvas canopy strung with red and green flags. Women served juice, eggs dyed red and sausages to supporters. Gasim said he was confident of Jabir’s win the next day.

“Jabir has already performed in Majlis. He was an MP during the formulation of the constitution. He is successful and courageous. He came with a manifesto to the people to create job opportunities and development,” he told me.

“Dhonbiley has failed in everything in his life, even running a business. People do not accept MDP anymore. They are not religious. They want to destroy this country’s Islamic social-fabric,” he said.

Gasim had been involved in the MDP’s formation, but after being jailed in 2004 he had defected to President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s party, and took up the position of Gayoom’s finance minister. He ran for presidency in 2008, and supported Nasheed against Gayoom in the second round of elections after no candidate managed to garner more than 50 percent of the votes.

He had served as Nasheed’s home minister for 20 days but quit, criticising Nasheed for being authoritarian.

“They are irreligious. Maldivian citizens do not support that. They cannot build idols here. Nasheed was in power by spending a lot of money, and by coercing and intimidating people. The people appreciate what we are doing for them. We know the people’s needs. We know this island needs agriculture, the other one needs fisheries, and what the youth want,” he told us. He predicted Jabir would win with over 80 percent of the votes.

Voting day arrived on Kaashidhoo with a brief but heavy rain storm. We saw Jabir, a short dark man, pass by in a car. He waved hello to us as we sought shelter under a broad Hirundhu tree on the harbor front. Daniel and I were looking for a cafe for breakfast when the storm had hit. We also saw a white van with four police officers passing by. When the rain thinned, we headed to an open air cafe near MDP’s main campaign office for breakfast.

We sat down near a group of three boys heckling a mute man to vote for MDP. A short-haired white-shirted boy said, “Jabir is a dog! What has he ever done for you?” Another threatened, “We buy coffee for you, we buy cigarettes for you. We will cut you off if you don’t vote for MDP.”

A few minutes later, Dhonbiley walked in for breakfast with MP Ahmed Easa and a group of his supporters.

“The problem is the current government came to power through a coup,” the tall former football star told us. “They want to delay early elections. They want to try and show the international community the atmosphere is not right. Tension is high. Jabir’s supporters have sprayed graffiti calling me a bastard.”

He pointed to graffiti on the building next to the cafe. The words had been sprayed over. I recalled a banner I had seen the night before that proclaimed Dhonbiley had been banished for fornication.

“My supporters have reached the limit of their patience, but I have told them to keep calm,” he told us, and said he was confident of a win that day. He also claimed Gasim had walked through the island the night before handing out Rf 4000 (US$260) for votes.

After Dhonbiley left, we overheard the boys at the next table on the phone, requesting their breakfast be put on the MDP’s bill.

The rain left shallow puddles on the sandy street that quickly disappeared in the sweltering heat. Daniel and I arrived at the polling station at around 9am. Two booths had been set up at the Kaashidhoo School and voters queued peacefully under the shade of a tree in the school yard. Two policemen sat a few meters away from the voters.

Outside, both candidates had set up exit poll booths under wide parasols, and were crossing off people who had voted. The booths were also serving drinks to supporters.

Outside the polling booths we met Aisha Mohamed*, a skinny scarf-clad girl with a mole on her cheek, wielding a large Nikon camera. Aisha, 24, was a photographer, and supported the MDP. Her dream was to open a photography studio on Kaashidhoo.

“People have to go to Male’ to take passport photos for ID cards and passports. So we asked Jabir to invest in lighting equipment and he offered a partnership,” Aisha said.

“But when he changed parties, I did not want to vote for him. I cannot change my party like I change my clothes. So the investment fell through,” she said.

Aisha took us to a juice shop near the school, which served the popular Jugo juice, a cold fruity-flavored, sugary sweet milk-blend. The shop’s owner, Amjad* offered us free drinks and said he was serving free drinks to MDP supporters. When I asked him why, he said that Dhonbiley had invested in a deep freezer for the shop.

By midday, most of the island’s registered voters had cast their ballots. The streets were calm, an atmosphere of expectancy prevailed throughout the island. The police presence was palpable. Aisha, Daniel and I saw Jabir standing in view of the school near the island’s health centre. He said he was confident of a win but declined to comment further. Outside the health centre, Aisha introduced us to her eldest brother Ahmed Azeez*, 53, a JP supporter.

Azeez worked as a laborer at the health centre. He earned Rf 3000 (US$195) per month.

“I support Jabir because he gave my daughter return tickets to India for a medical trip and Rf 10,000 (US$650) for expenses. Since she was 11 years-old, she has had lesions on her skin. She is 24 now, and she has two children. We still haven’t found a cure,” he said. He also said he hadn’t been able to gain any assistance from the government’s free health-care scheme Aasandha.

Later Aisha told me when Jabir had been the MDP candidate she had contacted Jabir for the medical assistance.

“I asked my brother to vote for Dhonbiley. But he refused. But we could have gotten that assistance from Dhonbiley too,” she said.

* Names changed