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Maldives electoral body ‘denying’ votes to local resort workers

Just seven Maldives resorts will have ballot boxes for local workers.



The Maldives electoral body was Monday accused of denying votes to locals working in tourism, after it slashed the number of ballot boxes available on resorts.

Just seven out of the country’s 120 or so resorts will have ballot boxes in this year’s presidential poll, the Elections Commission  announced. Resort voting would only be available where there are more than 250 local employees, a hike from the 100 voters quota in the previous election.

Maldivians working on resorts without a ballot box must register at nearby islands, the EC said, adding that a three-day period would be given for the re-registration process.

There are 27,837 Maldivians working in resorts, representing around 14 percent of the total workforce, according to the last census.

The EC said it would not keep ballot boxes at the seven designated resorts if fewer than 250 people registered for voting.

The Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives said it was a deliberate attempt by the EC to take away employees’ right to vote.

“The EC says they can vote in nearby islands but we know this will be difficult – it will be impossible,” TEAM secretary general Mauroof Zakir told the Maldives Independent.

“It’s not feasible for employees to go to a nearby island on a Sunday during high occupancy. This is a deliberate attempt by the EC to not give the opportunity to vote, maybe because they know the [government] will not get the votes.”

TEAM estimates there will be 20,000 votes from resort employees including direct and casual staff.

“We are going to write letters to management and ask them to make it a priority for their employees to be able to vote on resorts,” he said. “We’ll ask them to do what they can and lobby for it.

“The most important responsibility and job on election day is to vote. It will be their (the employees) most important job on that day.”

 – ‘Why bother’ –

An EC spokesman said the change was necessary after reviewing election proceedings from previous years, adding that resorts had asked for ballot boxes to be removed halfway through voting in 2013. Ballot boxes were cut down from 100 to 56 in 2013 after requests from management.

“Resorts are not far from inhabited islands,” EC member Ahmed Akram told Mihaaru. “That’s why after re-registration is open, they can vote by registering at  nearby islands. We are also thinking of keeping a ballot box for resort workers at nearby islands if enough people re-register at the islands.”

He did not believe the EC’s decision interfered with anyone’s right to vote.

But there was anger on social media about the move.

“We will bring the resorts to a stop and use our right to vote. #PresYAG is very afraid of the tourism workers but god willing we will do,” tweeted one resort worker.

“Deciding not to keep ballot boxes at most resorts deprives a lot of Maldivians from their right to vote! This decision needs to be changed,” said another Twitter user.

A total of 452 ballot boxes will be deployed in the presidential election on September 23.

Malé residents will have 50 ballot boxes, while there will be 72 for people who are from other islands but live in the capital. There will be five ballot boxes abroad, four in jails, six in industrial zones and 302 scattered across the Maldives’ inhabited islands.

The ballot boxes will be on the following seven resorts: Kuramathi Island Resort in Alif Alif Atoll; Conrad Maldives Rangali Island in Alif Dhaal Atoll; Sun Island Resort and Spa in Alif Dhaal Atoll; Bandos Maldives in Kaafu Atoll; Paradise Island Resort and Spa in Kaafu Atoll; Kurehdhoo Island Resort in Lhaviyani Atoll; The Sun Siyam Irufushi Maldives in Noonu Atoll.

“While [the government is] unable to provide workers with living wage or minimum age, now @ElectionsMV is attempting to steal the right to vote of resort workers. No one should be denied the right to vote as it’s a sacred fundamental right,” said lawmaker Ali Hussain.

“There are over 500 local staff working at One & Only Reethi Rah [resort], and the boat trip to nearby Gaafaru is 3 hours. While ballot boxes are being kept at inhabited islands with 50 residents, why will there be no ballot box at ReethiRah? @ElectionsMvasked MP Ahmed Mahloof.

Photo: Conrad Maldives Rangali Island