It’s 11 p.m. on Tuesday in Male’s artificial beach, a reclamation which serves as a meeting ground for people and an open-air sports complex, but no one seems in a hurry to leave. A blaring music system belts out techno, pop, soft rock and even blues. Nearby, youngsters play some serious basketball.
Welcome to the ‘3 on 3 street challenge’, a tournament conduct by the youth wing of the Progressive Party of Maldives. As many as 16 men’s teams compete for the MVR 40,000 ($2,500) prize money. There is a handsome cheque for runners-up too. And, there’s also a tournament for women, with a fourth of the prize money. The finals will be held on September 4, barely three days ahead of the vote! ‘3’ is PPM presidential hopeful Abdulla Yameen’s number on the ballot paper.
Elsewhere, Maldivian President Mohamed Waheed, who is running as an independent candidate, inaugurated a new airport on September 3. A day earlier, his Cabinet annulled a decision to make Addu City Equatorial Convention Zone — where the last SAARC summit was held — an uninhabited area. A third presidential candidate, multimillionaire resort tycoon Qasim Ibrahim, has been accused by rivals, including the Maldivian Democratic Party of distributing freebies to voters to garner votes.
“There is no electoral offences act,” says Ahmed Najaaf Saleem of Transparency Maldives, which has the largest number of observers on the ground for the elections. “The complaints mechanism of the elections commission has been an utter failure,” he added.The Elections Commission has not laid down the ground rules on activities such as sports meets of inaugurations. The only criterion available now is that a candidate can spend MYR 360 million for the election. This is calculated from the day of announcement of elections; the period before, and the expenditure incurred by the candidate’s party and others are not taken into consideration.
Police in the line of fire
It’s not merely politicians who are indulging in acts that would be a direct violation of code of conduct in most democratic nations. It involves other institutions too. The head of the Maldivian Police Force, Abdulla Riyaz tweeted on September 1, 2013: “MPS created 9 years ago today. Thank you sir @maumoonagayoom for the executive decision to create a service for the protection of people.” He was thanking former dictator Maumoon Gayoom, whose half-brother, Abdulla Yameen is a candidate.
The MDP has preferred 15 complaints against the police chief, its campaign head Ali Shiyam said. “He tweeted a letter which asked the police not to vote for Nasheed [MDP’s candidate],” Mr. Shiyam said.
A search of Riyaz tweets revealed that he had taken down the offending letter. But many others, obliquely pointing fingers at MDP about various issues, remain. He tweeted on July 9: “No infrastructure development projects for MPS during 2008-2012! Instead we lost MVR 170 million value of assets when torched on 8/2!” [MDP was in power during the period. On February 8, 2012, a day after Mr. Nasheed stepped down as President, violent protests had broken out in Addu City leading to the torching of a police station and a court house.]
On May 2, 2012 he re-tweeted Deputy Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal: “Great effort to strengthen our men in uniform. Unfortunately capacity building was neglected during 3yrs of previous regime.” Then again on March 21, 2013: “Who ordered to arrest chief judge of criminal court unlawfully? Lessons to learn for acting on unlawful orders!” [Referring to Nasheed’s orders to arrest the judge in January of 2012].
Mr. Riyaz will lead the force that has primary charge of ensuring the smooth conduct of polls. On September 3, the Police signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Elections Commission aimed at laying down the ground rules.
The MDP wants the police chief to go. “There is a great amount of mistrust when it comes to the police. But it has to be remembered that the campaigning has been very peaceful,” said Aiman Rasheed, Advocacy and Communications Manager, Transparency Maldives.
The Elections Commission too has been accused of taking sides. The PPM and the Jumhooree Party have opposed the EC utilising the services of IT professionals from India. The PPM even went to Court with a set of concerns. “We will explain all the issues in the court. We are confident that the Court ruling will favour us,” Elections Commission Chairperson Fuwad Thowfeeq, told The Hindu in a chat.
A free and fair poll will depend on how the fledgling institutions in Maldives — which began operating in a democratic space after the first real multi-party Presidential polls in 2008 — cope with the competing demands. All the three key institutions — the police, the judiciary and the Elections Commission — have faced a variety of allegations. Representative from the police and EC believe that their organisation can rise to the occasion and deliver a poll free of any serious complaints.