After multiple delays, campaigning for the May 6 local council elections has entered the final stretch with both the ruling and opposition parties walking door to door and holding rallies across the country.
Ahead of next year’s presidential election, the outcome of Saturday’s polls will be a crucial gauge of backing for President Abdulla Yameen’s three-year administration, which has been beset by multiple political crises, a corruption scandal of historic proportions, and a bitter leadership dispute that split the ruling party.
With Yameen battling a newly formed opposition alliance bolstered by the weight of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, voter preference and turnout in the Maldives’ third local council election will put claims of overwhelming public support to the test.
The united opposition is urging voters to say no to alleged corruption and tyranny whilst the government’s pitch stresses the need for cooperation at the local government level to ensure infrastructure development and economic progress.
Ministers and lawmakers have been touring several atolls in recent days. Many visits have coincided with the inauguration of development projects, such as launching sewerage projects and laying foundation stones for mosques and hospitals.
On Saturday night, the opposition coalition held a rally on the island of Thinadhoo island in Gaaf Dhaal atoll, a population hub in the southern atolls.
“We are seeing a lot of concrete development in many regions. This development is brought by indebting many generations to come,” contended Jumhooree Party MP Ali Hussain.
“The [Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital’s] new building project valued at US$54 million is contracted for US$140 million. This is their development.”
Teams from the opposition coalition have been touring islands throughout the Maldives. A delegation led by Mohamed Shifaz, the deputy leader of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, arrived on the island of Thakandhoo island of Haa Alif atoll on Sunday morning.
Speaking on the Maldives’ northernmost island, Shifaz urged supporters to be wary of alleged vote-rigging plans by carefully monitoring polling stations.
MDP deputy chairperson Ali Niyaz told the Maldives Independent that the travelling teams have been training election observers and monitors.
“MDP has still not approved the voters list. We do not see it as accurate. We have also complained to the elections commission about reports of planned vote rigging,” he said.
All political parties and independent candidates are required to verify and approve the voter registry before polls can take place, according to a 2013 electoral guideline by the supreme court.
The elections commission, however, held parliamentary and local council elections in 2014 despite some independent candidates’ refusal to approve it.
The commission has said the polls will take place on Saturday despite the refusal of opposition candidates to sign the lists.
On Friday night, candidates of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives for the Malé city council met President Abdulla Yameen ahead of a rally in the capital.
In his speech at the rally, Yameen assured equal rights for all Maldivian people, declaring that distinction between residents of the capital city and other islands is obsolete.
“Islanders do not exist. I have highlighted this several times. It was not under my rule this debate started, on the discrimination between people from the atolls and people living in the capital,” he said.
“Under my government, all Maldivians are Maldivians. They all deserve the same rights and privileges.”
On Saturday, the PPM’s coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance meanwhile held a rally on the northern island of Hoarafushi in Haa Alif atoll.
MP Ahmed Siyam Mohamed, the MDA’s leader and a resort tycoon, said: “Hopefully, an airport will be operational in Hoarafushi before the end of 2018. In the event that an airport is not established, transport will go on as it is, smoothly. My aim is to provide an airport for the people of this island.”
Teams of police officers were meanwhile sent to the atolls from Malé on Sunday. The police announced that they are fully prepared for security arrangements on Saturday.
Chief Superintendent Hamdhoon Rasheed, who will command the special operation for the elections, told the press that the police will ensure that voting proceeds smoothly without disruptions or violence.
Some 3,000 police officers will be posted at the 470 polling stations across the Maldives.