International observers from the European Union, foreign embassies and the Commonwealth have praised the conduct of Saturday’s parliamentary polls.
In a joint statement Monday, the EU and the embassies of France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Romania and the United Kingdom commended the Elections Commission for the “smooth conduct of election day.”
“We take note of the statement by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih who reassured that he will work together with all to realise the government’s pledges to the people,” it added.
“As steadfast friends of the Maldives, we look forward to supporting the country’s efforts towards reform.”
The praise was echoed at a press briefing on Monday by observers from Georgia, Japan, Philippine, Jordan and the Asian Network for Free Elections.
On Tuesday morning, the Commonwealth observer group led by former Jamaican prime minister Bruce Golding also commended the “peaceful and well organised” voting process.
“Let me begin by commending the Maldivian people for the peaceful and orderly manner in which they exercised their democratic right to vote on April 6,” Golding told the local press.
“Once again they have taken a step forward in consolidating their country’s democracy. We challenge the leaders they have chosen to spare no effort in realising the aspirations of the people.”
According to the Commonwealth group, polls generally opened on time, procedures were followed, the secrecy of ballots was ensured, and instructions to voters were made visible. Monitors, observers and candidate representatives were present and police were helpful but discreet.
“We were impressed by the confidence and professionalism of polling officials, a significant number of whom were young women. In some polling stations almost all polling officials were women,” Golding said.
However, he expressed concern with the EC’s decision to extend voting by two hours on the grounds that turnout was low due to high temperatures in the afternoon.
“Consideration should be given in law to extending the voting period for the sake of predictability. We feel that any ad hoc extension of voting time on polling day should be limited to unforeseen circumstances,” he said.
“We were impressed by the use of technology to collate and tabulate the results from all ballot box stations as well as the overseas vote. We were further impressed by the competent staff most of whom were once again young women.”
In December, the outgoing parliament approved President Solih’s decision to rejoin the Commonwealth after his predecessor ended the country’s 34-year membership of the intergovernmental organisation over alleged unfair treatment.
Golding noted that the Commonwealth observed the parliamentary elections as part of an assessment to determine the Maldives commitment to the group’s core values.
“We are here because although the Maldives left the commonwealth in 2016, it applied to rejoin the commonwealth family in December of last year,” he said.
“We are fully aware, therefore, of the implications of our report. It will be considered by the Secretary General in the ongoing assessment of the Maldives commitment to the Commonwealth’s values which is a fundamental aspect of the membership process.”
Ahead of the polls, the group met with relevant stakeholders and travelled to some atolls to observe the pre-election environment, Golding added.
The civic and political space in the Maldives have significantly improved, he reported, as “civil society and media informed that they felt freer than they had been in the past in expressing dissenting opinions without fear of repercussions.”
Campaigns were conducted in a peaceful and vibrant manner and the fundamental right of candidates, parties and supporters to assemble and campaign were broadly observed, he added.
But concerns raised by previous Commonwealth observer groups remain relevant, he noted, including “allegations of vote buying, the misuse of state resources, the need to develop a more effective regulatory framework for campaign financing and the need to continue to strengthen civic education.”
The group was “disappointed that only 35 of the 386 candidates for this election were women,” he added.
“The Maldives own laws in particular the Gender Equality Act of 2016 promote women’s participation. We encourage all political parties and incoming parliament in particular to make a special effort in promoting and facilitating the participation of women in all levels.
“We encourage the people of the Maldives to continue demonstrating the commendable patience, tolerance and collegiality they have shown so far while they await the official results.”