More than one in three Maldivians offered bribes or witnessed vote buying, IFES survey reveals

More than one in three Maldivians were offered bribes for their votes or witnessed vote buying in the March parliamentary polls, a landmark study by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has revealed.

The ‘Money and Elections in the Maldives: Perceptions and Reality‘ report released today said vote buying in the Maldives has assumed “alarming proportions” and “if not addressed, it threatens to undermine the democratic process in the country.”

The survey gathered information from face-to-face interviews from across the Maldives and looked at prevalence of vote buying and fraud, and public perception on campaign finance.

Of the respondents who experienced or witnessed vote buying, 82 percent said they were offered cash. Of this, 53 percent said they were offered between MVR4,000 (US$262) and MVR20,000 (US$1,309) for their votes.

According to IFES, the figure for those who experienced vote buying is a conservative estimate as respondents to opinion surveys are generally reluctant to report unethical or illegal activity.

Ballot marking was the most common technique used to ensure that those offered money or gifts cast their ballot for the candidate or the party who offered them money or gifts (27 percent), the survey said.

A further eight percent were asked to swear an oath on the Qur’an while six percent were asked to turn over their identity papers.

More than a third of respondents believed fraud was committed during parliamentary polls.

Despite the alarming prevalence of vote buying, majority of Maldivians continue to have faith in the electoral process, with 8 out of 10 saying they believed voting gives them influence over decision-making in the country.

“Vote buying should be addressed before cynicism and apathy take root,” IFES said.

Campaign Finance

Nearly two thirds (66 percent) of Maldivians believed political parties and candidates spend most of their campaign funds on vote buying and gifts for voters, while 70 percent said they do not believe candidates are honest in reporting campaign spending.

When asked about key sources of campaign funding, most Maldivians believe political parties and candidates receive funds from party funds (40 percent), or that candidates are self funded (32 percent). Local businesses ranked third.

More significantly, nearly 4 out of 10 respondents said they did not know sources of funding, suggesting a significant lack of information regarding election campaign funding.

Despite the dismal picture, there is near unanimous support for campaign finance reform, specifically to combat vote buying, IFES said.

Approximately 90 percent said vote buying should remain illegal and 70 percent supported a cap on contributions by any one person.

Three quarters of respondents also said they would like to see campaign spending limits for political parties and candidates.

Hence, “Maldivian lawmakers have clear public support to introduce preventive measures to combat vote buying ahead of the next elections,” the report stated.

A clear majority, nearly 90 percent, do not believe government property, including vehicles and boats, should be allowed for campaigning or political purposes.

A majority also said candidates and political parties must not undertake charitable activities and community development activities such as building a playground or harbors, suggesting a majority recognised such activities can be utilised to generate support.

A slight majority also believed the hiring of local musicians during campaigns was inappropriate.

Survey findings indicated high levels of confidence in the Election Commission with 73 percent stating the commission performed well or very well.

Those who did not vote in the election identified re-registration and other logistical issues such as transportation as main reasons for not voting.

Nearly 4 out of 10 voters had to manually re-register before each election, the survey found. IFES has recommended legislative reform to ease the burden or re-registration and logistical difficulties for voters and the Election Commission

Of those who did not vote, 19 percent said there were no worthy candidates, while 16 percent said they had no interest and 7 percent said their vote does not matter.

Related to this story

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EU elections observers recommend legislation to improve future polls

Majlis elections: Undue influence, bribery, and disilussionment led to losses, says MDP


Over 10,000 voters re-register as EC continues runoff preparations

The Elections Commission (EC) has received over 10,000 voter re-registration forms as its preparations for the second round of the presidential election continue amid controversy catalyzed by the Jumhooree coalition’s refusal to accept the first round results.

The coalition’s allegations of vote rigging have resulted in ongoing cases in the Supreme Court and High Court. Earlier this week, police barricaded the EC secretariat in response to these claims, searching its trash unsuccessfully for evidence of voter registry fraud.

The media has continued to disseminate unsubstantiated information about the commission, and threats have been directed at the EC’s chair, his family, and the vice chair, as well as EC official Ibrahim ‘Ogaru’ Waheed in the week-and-a-half since the presidential election’s first round.

The Jumhooree Party’s allegations that the EC rigged the first round vote include claims that an inaccurate voter registry and fake identity cards allowed individuals to vote more than once, or to cast ballots in the names of deceased people. The party has also alleged that the ballot counting process lacked transparency.

The EC has subsequently raised concerns that there may not be a suitable environment for the presidential election’s second round should Villa TV (VTV) – owned by JP leader Gasim Ibrahim – continue to deliberately spread false information and incite people to rise up against the commission.

Parliament’s National Security Committee and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) are currently conducting separate investigations into the matter.

Despite these challenges, the EC is continuing to prepare for the second round runoff – scheduled for September 28 – and has emphatically dismissed allegations of vote rigging as “baseless and unfounded”. The EC has highlighted its transparency, its ongoing complaints investigations, and the praise from a broad spectrum of election observers who noted peaceful voting and the preparedness of the EC.

“With [election] officials from different sources [working] in front of [election] observers, there was no way the type of fraud [the JP is alleging] could be made,” EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek recently told Minivan News.

“We have been strictly following the rules, regulations, laws, and constitution, so I don’t think there is room for anything to stop the second round voting,” he said.

“We are printing the ballot papers, conducting refresher training sessions for officials, prepping all the logistics, including travel plans, etc.,” he noted.

Over 10,000 re-register

Individuals registered to vote in one location had a four day re-registration opportunity – ending on Sunday (September 15) – to change that location according to their needs for the September 28 run-off.

The EC yesterday revealed that its secretariat in Male’ had received 10,000 re-registration forms and has sent replies to each individual. The commission is also currently processing re-registration forms forwarded from island councils in the atolls.

“The exact number of people who re-registered will only be known after the registration process is completed. About 10,000 forms were submitted for Male’ alone,” said EC Registration Department Head Aminath Majdha. “The exact number will be known when we know the number of forms submitted to the councils from the atolls.”

The re-registration forms that the commission has received thus far include new voters who did not participate in the first round polling, such as individuals who recently turned 18, as well as Maldivians who will be in Saudi Arabia performing the Hajj pilgrimage, Majdha explained.

The number of Maldivians now registered to vote in Saudi Arabia requires a ballot box to be stationed in the country, she added.

For the presidential election’s first round the EC stationed 470 ballot boxes on local islands, resorts, and diplomatic missions in Singapore, London, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka, as well as Trivandrum and New Delhi in order to accommodate 239,593 eligible voters.

Voting with forged ID’s not possible: DNR

Meanwhile, the Department of National Registration (DNR) has dismissed the possibility of individuals voting with forged national identity cards.

DNR Director General Fareeda Yoosuf has insisted there was no chance forged ID’s could be used to vote.

Each individual identity card is unique and does not change even when renewed and, even in cases where lost IDs are replaced, the same identity number is used, Yoosuf noted.

“The card number will remain the same for each individual no matter how many times the card is renewed,” she explained. “We haven’t issued identity cards with two different numbers to the same person, so I’m certain that can’t be done.”

“When each person has a unique number and is allowed to vote based on that number, there is no chance a person can vote more than once by using different ID numbers,” she continued.

No complaints of forged identity cards have been received by the DNR so far, she noted.

Earlier this week, the EC also announced that eight deceased individuals the JP had claimed to be on the electoral register had been found to be living.

The commission has determined that the eight people did cast ballots and has met five of them, EC Vice Chair Ahmed Fayaz told local media. The commission has received information that the other three individuals are also alive, though the EC has not yet been able to meet them.

Recount impossible

During last week’s National Advisory Committee meeting – where the JP, the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), and incumbent President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s representatives called for a recount of ballot boxes from the first round – the EC noted that the alleged voter discrepancy was not enough to call for a recount of all 470 ballot boxes.

The law states there are two instances where ballot boxes may be recounted: 1) If the EC decides the voting process was compromised and decides to conduct a recount to address a complaint(s); 2) If there is a court order issued for a recount, EC Vice Chair Fayaz explained recently.

However, the EC also emphasised that all the commission’s members were willing to conduct a recount of any ballot box where credible evidence of fraud is presented.

It would be impossible to conduct a recount prior to the second round, given that the time consuming task would require about two months to complete, EC Chair Thowfeek explained to Haveeru yesterday (September 16).

“That is something that simply cannot be done, it will take a long time to recount the votes,” said Thowfeek. “It takes around 12 hours to count four or five ballot boxes.”

Requesting a recount without any legal basis – only to remove personal doubts – is not sanctioned by the constitution or the elections law, he continued.

“The ballots had been counted in the presence of monitors, observers and representatives, so even if there is a recount, the results won’t change,” he noted. “Moreover, a vote recount is not something the people will welcome either.”

However, the PPM has alleged Thowfeek “changed his tune” about the time necessary to conduct a recount, claiming he told the National Advisory Committee the process would take about four days.