The Anti-Corruption Commission has cleared a Maldivian Democratic Party candidate of contravening electoral law by offering scholarships to constituents.
Hussain Shaheem, known as Andhun Hussain, the MDP’s candidate for the Henveiru South constituency in the capital, was accused of bribery for arranging scholarships for five students to study in an Indian university.
After looking into a complaint and questioning Shaheem, the ACC concluded on Monday that the scholarships “could not be considered an act of bribery because Shaheem was not legally a candidate at the time.”
Shaheem met the chancellor of Bangalore’s Garden City University, secured the scholarships and opened applications for students in his constituency before the Elections Commission invited applications from candidates, the anti-corruption watchdog said.
He has also promised to offer 10 more scholarships next year, Mihaaru reported.
According to the General Elections Act, an offer or promise of a gift, service or benefit to a person or organisation to win support for a candidate is an act of bribery. The law counts the period from the day an election is announced until 30 days after the results are made public.
“The law is very clear. It does not say whether the individual has to be a candidate when the undue influence occurs,” Aiman Rasheed from anti-corruption NGO Transparency Maldives told the Maldives Independent.
“It clearly specifies the timeframe as commencing with the announcement of an election. The question then is, were these scholarships offered after announcement of elections or not? If Hussain offered these scholarships after the election was announced, then he’s clearly in violation of the law, whether he was officially a candidate then or not.”
Earlier this month, the ACC also investigated a complaint against Jumhooree Party candidate Alhan Fahmy. The Henveiru North candidate was accused of bribery after organising a football tournament in his constituency with cash prizes.
Several other candidates have sponsored sports competitions ahead of the April 6 parliamentary elections.
Transparency Maldives project coordinator Ahmed Tholal told Raajje TV on Monday night that most candidates were making illegal campaign promises.
Pledges to provide material gains and services to voters once elected could also be considered as bribes, the former human rights commissioner contended.
“It’s not the mandate of an MP to provide sewage services, build roads, award Hajj trips, sponsor clubs or give money to NGOs. They can’t promise these things,” he said.
According to research conducted by Transparency Maldives, 37 percent of voters participate in vote buying in the Maldives.
Nearly a third of them use markings or symbols as tagged ballot papers allow observers and candidate representatives to identify votes during the counting process.
Additional markings were found in ballots at over 70 percent of polling stations in the 2018 presidential election, observers found.
Earlier this month, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ratified amendments to the electoral law to invalidate ballots that have symbols or drawings other than the check mark next to the candidate’s name.