As polls opened Saturday morning for the long-delayed local council elections, the Maldives Independent spoke to voters in the capital about their voting experience. Most agreed to talk on the condition of anonymity.
Anonymous woman, 32, business person
My candidate was an [opposition Maldivian Democratic Party] candidate, but last week he joined [the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives]. A lot of members of my family voted for him because they thought he was MDP.
The MDP has said they’ve notified the elections commission that he is not an MDP candidate, but elections commission has not taken any action and on the voting paper it still says he is an MDP candidate. So I’ve put a void vote. I believe there should be an invalid option on the voting paper.
The elections commission representative did not know what our ballot box was. When I told her my constituency, she did not know what ballot box that was. It didn’t take long to vote, there weren’t many people.
And our other issue is we normally voted in a station in Sosun Magu, but now the voting is at Billabong School. So people in Henveiru [ward] have to go very far to vote, and most people don’t know the building. The taxi centres didn’t know either. When I went to Billabong, someone came and asked if I was Henveiru, and he helped me out.
Anonymous man, 25, civil servant
I voted for Maafannu North, my ballot box was at Aminiya school. I was able to vote as soon as I went, there weren’t many people. There were two observers there, I’m not sure where they are from, I think there was one from Transparency Maldives.
The problem was that a half hour after I voted, I erased the ink on my finger by just rubbing it. If someone really wanted to remove the ink stain, they could do it easily. In 2013 and 2014 elections, I tried very hard but I couldn’t remove the ink but this time it was easy.
I don’t have any certainty that this would be a fair election. Some ballot boxes were only open after 11. And there are no observers at some of the ballot boxes so I have no certainty it would be fair.
There was no arrangement for elderly or pregnant or even wheelchair access for voting.
Anonymous man, 29, businessman
I have not voted yet but I intend to. I think this is a very symbolic vote. I can’t be involved in it but we have an opposition that is, so to encourage the opposition.
I don’t think it matters or that there will be a very practical change from electing councillors, but I think it is very important to see from this election that some are still hopeful that this can change, that things can be different.
I didn’t think I should vote until last night because I was disheartened and discouraged. I didn’t think that we can bring a change through this system. I feel like the system needs to break at some point but for that to happen I think it is very important for an opposition to continue.
Sadly, I haven’t been able to do research on the election but what I think is there is an opposition and there are NGOs and all of them have sort of come out and said go vote. So for me, I’m just putting my faith and trust in the people that are doing that work. If you cannot do the research and all I think you put your trust in the parties and the NGOs that are willing to do it for you. No NGO or political party has asked that we should boycott this election. So I feel like I should cast my vote.
Hassan Ahmed, 47, Raa Alifushi, political party worker
I’ve voted for Alifushi constituency.
Voting is very difficult. We have to stand in queue for 1.5 hours. The arrangements aren’t very easy. Elections Commission has given us a lot of difficulties. They haven’t given the pass for representatives, monitors, or observers. We’re carrying out the biggest election with all these difficulties, and I believe it’s the elections commission’s responsibility.
They’ve asked us to submit for monitors and observers online, but in some of the islands in the Maldives they don’t get the Internet.
Candidate’s representatives applied and they’ve all received it. Now candidates can’t go near the vote box, but if their observers and representatives can’t go near the ballot box, it’ll create doubt about the fairness of the vote amongst the people.
I don’t believe this will be a fair election, but my responsibility is to work within these difficulties and bring the citizens out and win this election. I am observing the ballot box for Raa Atoll Inguraidhoo, but monitors and observers haven’t got their passes.
The MDP requested for over 300 observers, representatives and monitors. But some of them haven’t received it. I have received information that half of the observers for Addu atoll didn’t receive their passes either.
They also have one ballot box for three different large cities in some locations. And also the other thing in, some of the voters don’t know where their ballot box is because the elections [commission] did not provide the right information for it.
For example, when they say Raa Atoll is for Dharumavantha [School], people go to the old Dharumavantha. If they mean the new Dharumavantha, they should have a notice outside old Dharumavantha letting them know, too. Now each voter has to come and ask individually to find out which Dharumavantha it is. It is the elections commission’s responsibility to give this information. Voting is open for eight hours, and people have to go to work and everything, and I don’t think they will be clear where the ballot box is by the time the voting lines close either.
I have a pass from the party, but some of the candidates’ representatives and observers didn’t receive their passes. So it’s very difficult and we’re doing it with a lot of grievances with a lot of challenges, but I am informing the public as I know of it.
Aishath Hafeez, 57, visiting lecturer for Villa College
Voting is going very well.
I have not experienced any difficulties. There is no queue. The arrangement is very good. There is a lot of people coming to vote. I think more women will come in the afternoon.
The election will be fair. The arrangements are so good even the person who knows very little will know what to do.
Anonymous woman, 44, PPM campaign worker for the Alifushi constituency
Voting is going well. Everyone has to come and stay in the queue but the complaint from everyone is having to stay hours in the queue because the officials are very slow. This makes it very difficult as people have jobs they need to go to but they have to stay in the queue for 2-4 hours. That is the issue.
Voting began at 8:20. Voting for our constituency is at the new Dharumavantha School but people are going to the old school because it is not specified and then they come back here.
It’s very difficult because the officials are inept. The election appears to be transparent, but the slow pace is the problem. I observed more people coming to vote than expected.
I think people are voting in this election hoping to elect candidates who represent the ideologies they support, to develop their own islands. People who are concerned about these things are coming to vote, others are not.
Whichever government is in power if the councillors want to do something for the island and work enough for it, they can get that for the island. We do not get what we want in the islands because councillors do not work hard enough not depending on which government is in power.
Mohamed Rasheed, 29, government official
The voting arrangements are terrible, it is going very slow. That is the only issue. People who came from resorts to vote also had to leave without casting their vote because it was taking too long.
Voting began at 8:45 am but by 2 pm, only 200 votes have been cast. Those who got voter number from 200 onwards are still voting, I got around [token number] 400 so I have been waiting to get in the queue, which is still full, for the past two hours.
This vote is important so that we can elect the people we want to go forward with.
I am not upset with the elections commission but they have been doing this for some time but are so slow. Many are coming to vote but leaving because it is taking a long time. But I am 95 percent sure this will be a transparent, free and fair election. The vote could go either way.
Ahmed Ibrahim, 28, speedboat crew member
It could be a free and fair election.
I have only come to know of the challenges of voting after coming here. We have not been able to get into the centre yet because there are so many people yet to vote, I have been waiting here for the past three hours. I am voting for a change, but we can only win this if we work for it and the opposition has done enough work. We want to elect good councillors. I am pretty sure we can elect those we want to.
Anonymous man, 24, businessman
I think voting is important because that is our only chance, legally, to do something. When we look at the common man, if there is any action they can take it is their vote. The only chance the government gives to cast a vote, so I take it and cast my vote. I think it would be very irresponsible of me to not vote.
This election is important because these people are supposed to be the ones who represent the small communities, people who know the people and their problems from a personal level. They are the people who can and have to do something about it.
I definitely don’t think it will be a free and fair election. I don’t trust this government at all. Because first of all, people are being misrepresented by the elections commission. This government also wants young people in positions so they can manipulate them into doing whatever they want them to do.
Anonymous woman, 42, a political party activist
Voting is going very well. I have voted as well. It doesn’t take very long to vote for my constituency – it’s Velidhoo constituency. You don’t have to wait very long to vote, the arrangements have been done very well.
But I have some concerns regarding placement of ballot boxes. The constituencies aren’t separate, so sometimes they overlap each other. People don’t know where to go. If we had known before, it would have gone very well. Right now, since people don’t know where to go, observers need to come out and show the way.
For example, Noonu Kedikulhadhoo constituency and Noonu Holhudhoo constituency, they’re very similar. They have a lot of people on average. But everyone is in the same line, and there are a lot of people, and as they have to stand they experience a lot of difficulties. Some of the people are sick, or with small children, or people who need to be excused for other reasons – like people who are in jobs, it’s not only civil servants who are coming to vote.
I’ve repeatedly talked to the people of Elections Commission to separate these two constituencies because I see them standing and I am not very happy about it. The two constituencies are voting in two different ballot boxes, but they have to stand in the same line because of space issues, they’ve said. The arrangements aren’t very good.
Also Majeediyya School has the ballot boxes for Addu atoll. Noonu atoll has the 5th largest population in Maldives, and Addu atoll has the largest population – so there is a lot of difficulties are they are in the same location. We are experiencing difficulties trying to show the way and find the ballot boxes for each individual person.
Kedikulhadhoo constituency and Holhudhoo constituency are having to stand in the same line and sit in the same set of chairs. Now when they tell me their difficulties, and I go and tell the head person from Elections Commission, he said to me, “You’re telling me this right after I’ve sat down.” But I believe if you’re the head person, even if you’ve sat down, if we tell you a complaint you need to fix it immediately. And you should also think of the number of people before you pt the ballot boxes in a location. Before, Noonu atoll ballot boxes were in the old Dharumavantha. Now, we have to enter old Dharumavantha from the same door that Addu atoll people are going in. It’s very difficult to identify and stop accidents. I would hope it is improved next time. This is an Elections Commission problem, they should think about it before and identify doors that they can come in from. There are multiple doors here, if they had allowed for Noonu atoll people to enter from a different door this would have been easy. Now, everyone from Noonu and Addu look the same, so I don’t know how to differentiate them either. That’s the main problems we’ve identified.
This time around, there isn’t as much support for voting. Maybe it was because of issues to registration. But I think once it’s evening, there will be more people. Maldivians like it like that – they will come when it’s closing down. Now it’s afternoon so it’s possible for us to vote without bumping into each other. Right now, sometimes, a woman going to vote bumps into a man and it’s a lot of difficulty for us. I am very upset that Noonu atoll and Addu atoll ballot boxes are in the same location.
I am a government supporter but I will tell the truth if there is the citizens are experiencing difficulties.
I believe the election is going well, and it will be fair. The biggest problem is that there aren’t enough people – Elections Commission didn’t provide enough people, even the person in charge has to sit down and tick something. But the person in charge should be there to see what difficulties voters face and to fix it, they’re the mediator between voters and elections. He shouldn’t be sitting there to tick something. How can he help if he’s sitting there? I’ve told him repeatedly to separate Kedikulhudhoo constituency and Holhudhoo constituency, but he says he’s just sat down, so he can’t help.
There aren’t enough officials, so there are a lot of difficulties.
This isn’t because of different parties, here the strong are strong, and the weak are weak. All parties are equal here and have the same problems. But when Isveriyaa is sitting down to tick something, how can he listen to the people?
I don’t want people of Addu and Noonu to vote in the same location again, and if we had to face it in the next Presidential election we will have a lot of difficulties.
Interviews and photos by Fathimath Isha and Shafaa Hameed.