A solid majority of Maldivians prefer democracy as a form of government, but remain cynical about the status quo and distrustful of state institutions and political parties, according to a nationwide survey conducted by Transparency Maldives (TM).
The NGO’s 2015 Democracy Survey titled ‘A Troubled Future for Democracy’ was made public today. TM conducted the Maldives’ first survey of public attitudes towards democracy ahead of the presidential election in 2013.
The 2015 survey found that 63 percent of people believe that despite its problems democracy is still the best system for the Maldives, compared to 59 percent in 2013. Some 77 percent of the respondents also think a democratic form of government is good for the country.
However, a majority of Maldivians lack confidence in the parliament, the judiciary, political parties, and state institutions. A majority of respondents were critical of the political order and believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction.
“The survey shows that citizens are less likely to meaningfully participate in public matters and protect democratic institutions as they have no faith in them. If so, it should not be surprising to see democratic declines and increase in impunity and corruption,” said Mariyam Shiuna, Executive Director of TM.
The survey comes amid a prolonged political crisis triggered by the imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed and other opposition politicians earlier this year. International human rights groups have warned that the crisis has put the Maldives at risk of an authoritarian reversal.
The TM report observed that dissatisfaction with the status quo is not unusual in mature democracies where citizens value democracy. But the “combination may not be an effective deterrent against authoritarian reversals” in transitional democracies like the Maldives.
“If citizens do not have confidence in key democratic institutions, will they be ready to defend them against anti-democratic forces? Gaining public confidence in key democratic institutions, including the parliament, the courts, and the parties remains as one of the biggest challenges for the Maldives,” the report stated.
If the challenges cannot be overcome, “the overall picture from the Democracy Survey points to a troubled future for democracy in the Maldives.”
Crisis of confidence
A majority of respondents (51 percent) said they have no confidence at all in the courts compared to 46 percent in 2013. While 57 percent have no confidence in parliament, the figure was five percent lower than 2013.
Confidence in political parties improved by nine percent, but almost half (49 percent) still lack confidence.
The confidence level in the Elections Commission dropped by 17 percent compared to 2013. But 56 percent still have confidence in the independent institution.
Most Maldivians also think that political parties only serve their own interests or seek to serve the interest of those in power.
Despite decreases compared to 2013, the results show that Maldivians remain deeply cynical about politics. Nearly half were dissatisfied with the way democracy works.
While 71 percent said that the government does not care about ordinary people, 94 percent of Maldivians believe that politicians are “ready to lie to get elected.”
Some 80 percent agreed that political power is concentrated in the hands of too few people and 63 percent believe the country is run by a few people for their own personal interests.
Asked about the biggest problems facing the country, respondents cited problems with democracy (33 percent), civil unrest and conflict (19 percent), politics and political leaders (17 percent), the economic situation and unemployment (seven percent), crime (seven percent), and corruption (four percent).
On specific political issues, 72 percent reported that there was an increase in the level of corruption in the country and 65 percent believe there has been a decline in political stability. Almost half said judicial independence has also declined.
While 97 percent believe that dialogue is the best way to solve the problems, one in three felt that violence is a solution to injustice. Only 15 percent preferred revolutionary change, while 77 percent supported gradual reforms for improving society.
Some 37 percent said it would be better to move to another country to ensure a better future.
The 2015 survey revealed “a striking positive development in how people evaluate democracy” compared to the results two years ago.
Compared to 78 percent in 2013, 49 percent of respondents agreed that democracies are unstable.
Only 34 percent agreed that democracies are not good at establishing order, compared to 61 percent in 2013. Some 38 percent agreed that in a democracy economic systems work poorly, down from 66 percent in 2013.
Asked about alternative systems, four in ten Maldivians believe that having a religious group govern the country would be either very good (11 percent) or good (30 percent). But almost half say that a religious group governing the country would be either bad (29 percent) or very bad (16 percent).
The findings also indicated that most Maldivians associate democracy with freedom of speech (74 percent) and freedom of assembly (65 percent).
Strong majorities also believe that restrictions on private business (89 percent), free media (89 percent), and civil society (87 percent) are not justified to ensure public order. Some 68 percent opposed restrictions on freedom of assembly.
The survey was conducted between May 20 and June 15 with 1,064 interviews with Maldivians aged 18 and above. The random sample was “designed to be nationally representative, with interviews conducted in all administrative regions in the Maldives.”
TM said the results are generalisable to the whole population with a three percent margin of error.