Maldives Commonwealth report flags vote buying
As India pushes for fast-tracking Maldives’ re-entry into the Commonwealth, a report by the group’s observers has flagged low participation of women and ‘vote-buying’ in the April 2019 parliamentary election won overwhelmingly by the Madivian Democratic Party.
The 8-member Commonwealth observer group was led by former Jamaica prime minister Bruce Golding and included India’s Nitin Pai, director of the Takshashila Foundation.
Maldives withdrew from the Commonwealth at the height of political turmoil in Male in 2016. The new President, Ibrahim Mohammad Solih, applied to re-join in December 2018.
India’s external affairs minister S Jaishankar called for the speedy re-admission of the India Ocean country during the 19th Commonwealth foreign affairs ministers meeting here last week. Maldives was the first country Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited in his second term in office.
The London-based Commonwealth secretariat said the group does not usually observe elections in non-member countries, but exceptions can be made for countries that have applied to join or re-join.
The group was informed that ‘vote-buying’ remained an issue, especially during the campaign period, it appeared to be less prevalent than previously. The report adds that the issue did not appear to compromise the secrecy of the ballot.
One ballot box was placed in the Maldives diplomatic mission in New Delhi for voters in India.
The group, however, said it is disappointed by the low participation of women as candidates. While women were overwhelmingly present as polling officials on election day, only 35 of the 386 parliamentary candidates were women.
“We urge the People’s Majlis, political parties and all relevant stakeholders to play their part in implementing the gender equality stipulations detailed in Maldives’ Gender Equality Act of 2016”, the report released on Thursday says.
Noting that campaigns were conducted in a peaceful and vibrant atmosphere, and fundamental rights of candidates, political parties and supporters to assemble and campaign were broadly respected, the report makes several recommendations, including steps to eliminate ‘vote-buying’.
“The Group urges political parties to take deliberate measures so as to ensure that women occupy positions of leadership in their respective parties. In line with Section 24 of the Gender Equality Act, we also encourage political parties to facilitate more women candidates”.
The report released by Commonwealth secretary-general Patricia Scotland adds: “We urge them to ensure that these candidates are given all the necessary financial and technical support to run for office”.
Golding sates in a foreword to the report: “We have been struck by the trust that voters appear to have in the electoral process itself. Many aspects of the Maldivian electoral process are far advanced and can provide useful lessons across the Commonwealth.”