The ruling coalition has described the outcome of Saturday’s local council election as “a satisfactory victory” despite heavy losses in the capital and other populous islands.
At a press conference Sunday afternoon, Tourism Minister Moosa Zameer said the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives along with coalition partners Maldives Development Alliance and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party have secured 219 seats out of more than 650 seats in contention.
In contrast, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and ally Jumhooree Party have won 206 seats on city, atoll, and island councils, Zameer said.
“From the work carried on from the past few days we have achieved huge progress,” said the PPM’s deputy leader.
“The PPM is a party that wins elections. However, in the last few days, PPM had to compete with changes to its structure and President [Abdulla] Yameen had to fight against people from the party and the opposition. Looking at all that, this is a complete success and an encouragement to win [the 2018 presidential election].”
The PPM was split into rival factions last year after a bitter power struggle between Yameen and his half-brother former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Ahead of the election, Gayoom, the PPM’s founder and elected leader, was working with the opposition alliance to dismantle Yameen’s previously secure parliamentary majority.
With results from more than 100 out of 422 ballot boxes yet to be announced, Zameer said the PPM expects the new results to add to the party’s column as most boxes were from government strongholds.
Both Zameer and Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan downplayed the PPM’s stark loss in the Malé, Addu and Fuvahmulah city council races – which together accounts for 30 percent of the electorate – by pointing to a 17 percent turnout in the capital.
“The voter turnout tells us that the people are not interested in or have enthusiasm for city councils. This is because in the last two councils, they failed. They failed to give any service to people. So people have lost interest,” Zameer said.
After Yameen assumed office in November 2013, the opposition-dominated city councils were stripped of their powers and responsibilities by the parliament, which transferred most municipal services to government ministries and left the Malé and Addu city councils with providing registration services and issuing birth and death certificates.
Zameer went on to stress that the government’s mandate remains unchanged despite the results.
“The government does not plan any development initiative based on the vote it gets. Our vision is to develop the whole Maldives, development plans will not be affected as we don’t see that the mandate given to the government by the people has changed,” he said.
MP Nihan, the PPM’s parliamentary group leader, suggested that family connections and friendships are more of a deciding factor than party loyalty in local council elections.
He declared that most independent candidates who have won seats would sign for the PPM in the near future.
Nihan also criticised the opposition for alleging voter fraud before the results were announced.
“Until 7 or 8 pm last night, the opposition had many problems with this election. They complained about the delay or the extention, they stormed the elections comission offices,” he said.
“There wasn’t anything good about the election. Then when results started coming in and it seemed like they were winning from the numbers, they stopped complaining and it was a fair and free election again. So this is what I am saying. Is this the democracy they want? Whenever they get what they want it is a good democracy.”
At a press conference later on Saturday, MDP chairman Hassan Latheef questioned the accuracy of the PPM’s figures.
The Elections Commission has yet to announce provisional results.
According to the latest results from the opposition-aligned broadcaster Raajje TV, which employed staff across the country to collect results from polling stations, the MDP has won 285 seats.
With 272 out of 422 ballot boxes counted, the PPM has won 135 seats and both the MDA and opposition Jumhoree Party have each won 14 seats, according to the station.
Independent candidates have also won 91 seats.
Responding to Nihan’s criticism about concerns over the EC’s independence, Hassan Latheef reiterated the opposition’s stance that the election was not conducted in a free and fair manner.
“We are not talking about just the election day,” he said.
“People went out to vote with their hands and feet tied and blindfolded. Intimidation and oppression are prevalent at an unprecedented level. A tweet lands you in jail, something you say means a defamation fine. They did not let even one opposition candidate hold a rally or political event in Malé while they closed whole areas of the city to hold their rallies.”
Sharing its election observations Saturday night, anti-corruption NGO Transparency Maldives also expressed concern with the multiple delays of the election and the backdrop of political turmoil “with all opposition political leaders either currently in jail, in exile or facing criminal charges.”
The situation “hindered opposition political parties’ ability to freely campaign in the run-up to the election.”
Administrative processes on Saturday were also “marred by the questionable decision by the Elections Commission to arbitrarily extend the voting time,” TM said, after voting hours were extended in contravention of electoral laws.
Other problems highlighted by the NGO include “the lack of a level playing field for opposition political parties, severe and arbitrary restrictions on media freedoms, freedom of assembly and expression, all of which restrict political and campaign activities; vote buying and the misuse of public resources for political campaigning.”
The state broadcaster Public Service Media “while denying coverage of opposition political campaigns, disproportionately covered political campaign events of the ruling party,” TM said.
“Such actions not only undermine the integrity of PSM but also serves to provide the ruling party with an unfair advantage and precludes a level playing field.”