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.
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.
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