Maldivians do not believe there will be a free and fair election this year, Transparency Maldives said Sunday, one of many bleak findings published in its pre-election report.
People interviewed by the NGO said it is unlikely that an election will be held at all and, even if it is held, the interviewees questioned whether it would be free and fair.
There is not a competitive political atmosphere, according to those interviewed, because all the opposition leaders are disqualified from contesting, and there is an uneven playing field between the ruling party and the opposition in terms of campaigning.
People also said that even if a unity candidate is put forward by the opposition alliance that this candidate, too, will be disqualified.
State employees are forced to participate in the ruling party’s campaign activities and threatened with dismissal if they refuse, interviewees said.
Some also expressed concern that personal information held by state institutions would be used to influence the election.
Housing scheme flats were awarded in a manner to influence the election, interviewees said, noting that ruling party campaign offices asked applicants if they will vote for the government.
People often succumb to vote buying because there is no faith in the political system and they have low incomes, they said.
Interviewees also queried the independence of the Elections Commission, especially after the appointment of presidential loyalist Ahmed Shareef as its head.
Journalists interviewed by TM said the biggest challenge was the politicisation of the Maldives Broadcasting Commission, which has singled out opposition-aligned media outlets.
Individual journalists are also harassed, especially by police during protests, reporters told the NGO.
State media is not independent at all, members of the public said, and no airtime is given to opposition parties.
TM also remarked that women’s participation in politics was extremely low with only 6 percent of the country’s parliament consisting of women.
There has never been a female presidential candidate and only one female running mate, the report said.
TM said it is concerning that voter education programmes have not been started by the EC, political parties, the media or civil society organisations with the election just months away.
The NGO conducted focus group discussions with people from five islands for the assessment. It also studied available literature on electoral systems and interviewed state institutions and political parties.
However five major institutions – the Prosecutor General’s Office, Attorney General’s Office, Police, Anti-Corruption Commission and Public Service Media – did not have the time to be interviewed about election conditions.
The EC also did not have time to be interviewed but responded to questions in writing, TM said. Follow-up questions were not answered.
The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and its coalition partner the Maldivian Democratic Alliance (MDA) refused to be interviewed.
TM proposed a number of recommendations to solve the issues highlighted in the report.
These include making legal changes to prevent use of state resources for campaigning and ensure that EC members are independent.
The Maldives Independent contacted the EC for comment Monday about the report’s findings and its TM interview snub, but calls were not being answered.
An English version of the report is available.
This story has been updated.