EU calls for a level playing field in the Maldivian elections

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Malé, September 19: The European Union on September 11, issued the preliminary statement of the EU Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) on the Maldivian Presidential election held on September 9.

“A peaceful campaign, in which fundamental freedoms were largely respected, was accompanied by a well-administered electoral process. Lavish spending pledges by candidates accompanied frequent allegations of the instrumentalization of state resources, particularly through state-owned enterprises.”

“The legal framework offers an adequate basis for the conduct of democratic elections, broadly in line with the regional and international standards subscribed to by the Maldives. The comprehensive dispute resolution system offers means of redress at all stages of the electoral process. An amendment to the law, introduced earlier this year, provided for the independent voting of persons with visual impairment.”

“Candidate registration was inclusive and was well administered by the Elections Commission of Maldives (ECM). A record number of eight candidates was registered.”

In December 2022, Former President Abdulla Yameen was convicted and imprisoned by the Criminal Court for bribery and money laundering. Despite his imprisonment, the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) nominated him as their presidential candidate. He was disqualified by the ECM, a decision unanimously upheld by the Supreme Court.

“All eight candidates were men. Despite being a State Party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, women are significantly under-represented in political life, comprising just 4.6 per cent of members of parliament. There are no measures to promote the participation of women in national politics.”

“The ECM was well-prepared for the election and complied with legal deadlines, despite staff shortages. Their duties were administered in an impartial and professional manner. The independent status of the institution, however, is vulnerable to perceptions of politicisation due to the appointment and removal mechanism for commissioners. Engagement with election stakeholders was limited, as was the provision of voter education.”

“Voter registration was inclusive and transparent. Procedural improvements included a significant extension to the period for inspection of and complaint about the voter register, from 10 to 44 days, and introduction of an online application for re-registration.”

“The governing Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the opposition PPM dominated the campaign, with smaller parties and independent candidates contributing to political diversity. Pledges of economic and extensive infrastructural development on all sides were accompanied by widespread allegations of the instrumentalization of state resources, including through state-owned enterprises. The campaign was peaceful.,”

“The freedom of movement and freedom of assembly were respected for candidates and their supporters. A few arrests of opposition protestors were made in places where President Solih visited.”

“Campaign finance is lightly regulated and not effectively enforced. There is an absence of transparency in the income and expenditure of candidates. The ECM, responsible for the audit of campaign finance reports, lacks capacity to exercise this task. The high spending limit, with a ceiling of over five hundred and sixty million Maldivian rufiyaa (€33.5 million), has the potential to distort the democratic process.”

“Comprehensive EU EOM media monitoring indicates that Public Service Media (PSM) blurred the boundaries between governmental functions and campaign activities in newscasts and editorial coverage. Although public service media met the legal duty to allocate free and paid airtime to all candidates equally, free airtime on TV was mainly offered outside prime time. Private TV channels exhibited clear political biases in their coverage.”

“Meta and X/Twitter were the predominant social media platforms for online campaigning. This campaign was assessed to be, in general, respectful in tone, with candidates maintaining civility and avoiding harsh engagement with rivals. There is an absence of a dedicated fact-checking platform, with some information manipulation identified during the course of the campaign.”

“The conduct of polling and counting was orderly and efficient and in accordance with polling procedures, with very few irregularities reported. The provision of a tactile ballot guide, for the first time, facilitated the independent voting of persons with visual impairment.”

“The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) has been present in the Maldives since 31 July following invitations from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Elections Commission of Maldives. The Mission is led by Chief Observer, Nacho Sánchez Amor, Member of the European Parliament (Spain). In total, the EU EOM deployed 40 observers from 18 EU Member States, as well as from Canada, Norway and Switzerland, across the country to assess the whole electoral process against international obligations and commitments for democratic elections as well as the laws of Maldives. On election day, observers visited 124 polling stations in 52 islands, including in Malé and in 12 atolls, to observe voting and counting.”

This preliminary statement is delivered prior to the completion of the election process. The final assessment of the elections will depend, in part, on the conduct of the remaining stages of the election process, in particular, the tabulation of results, and the handling of possible post-election day complaints and appeals. The EU EOM remains in country to observe the second round of elections and will publish a final report, containing detailed recommendations, within two months of the conclusion of the electoral process.

The EU EOM is independent in its findings and conclusions and adheres to the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation endorsed at the United Nations in October 2005.


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