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SUMMARY: The Presidential Elections in September 2013 was held under an extremely uncertain political backdrop. However, the elections presented an opportunity for moving forward the democratic transition that got off track because of the controversial change of power in 2012, half way into the term of the first democratically elected government in 2008. The pre-election environment, including campaigning, was largely peaceful. All parties and candidates generally enjoyed the prerequisite freedoms for fair and free elections ahead of the elections. Transparency Maldives’ Long Term Observers (LTOs) deployed throughout the country reported that there were a few cases of obstructions to campaigning and several, mostly minor, cases of vandalism to campaign materials.

The legal framework for elections provides minimum standards for democratic elections. Problematic areas do exist. The current legal framework, enacted in a constrained timeframe ahead of the 2008 Presidential Elections, is in need of reform. Most importantly, the loopholes and gaps in political finance regulations created a black hole when it comes to campaign expenditure. There are also no comprehensive rules or procedures for electoral dispute resolution.

As a consequence of the lack of such rules and because of buckpassing between institutions and because of jurisdictional confusions, investigations into allegations of bribery and abuse of state resources were hindered. As TM’s LTOs reported, there were several cases of abuse of state resources for campaigning and cases of vote buying during the elections. None of these cases were successfully investigated or prosecuted.

Some institutions, including the Elections Commission, the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, and Transparency Maldives engaged in voter information and education activities. However, voter education on issues such as vote buying was found to be another area that required more attention.

The pre-existing political fault lines only re-surfaced after the announcement of the results of the round of elections of September 7th. Jumhooree Party (JP), the party of the candidate who placed third, contested the results at the Supreme Court as a constitutional 7 matter, bypassing the electoral complaints mechanism at the EC that were available under the electoral legal framework. The complaints were mainly regarding the voter register that JP alleged had allowed extensive election fraud through double-voting, ghost-voting, and underage voting. Street protests in Malé, a smear campaign against the Elections Commission via TV (mainly VTV affiliated with JP), death threats to election officials, and general lack of focus on campaigning, mired the prevailing electoral environment.

The JP case resulted in unprecedented court interventions in the electoral processes. Delay over a decision on the JP case at the Supreme Court resulted in the postponement of the run-off election beyond the constitutional timeline of 21 days given for run-off election. The Supreme Court finally ruled in favour of JP and ruled that the first round of election was invalid. Along with the verdict, the Court issued a new guideline to conduct elections, which highly constrained the role of Elections Commission. The Supreme Court subsequently intervened in the electoral processes resulting in further delays beyond the constitutional deadline to elect a president and beyond the presidential term limit stipulated in the Constitution.

The first round of the new election took place on 9 November 2013. The runoff election was finally concluded on 16 November 2013 – five days after the presidential term limit and 35 days after the constitutional deadline for electing a president.

Despite the challenges faced during all rounds of elections, the Election Commission delivered well administered, generally transparent and peaceful elections.

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In comparison to other South Asian countries, the Maldives follows a relatively liberal labour policy and over the past 25 years migration has become a permanent feature in the Maldives labour market. Growing income inequality between countries in South Asia has added the incentive for South Asians to explore income-earning opportunities in other countries. As such, since 1990 there has been a significant expansion of the foreign migrant1 workforce in the Maldives.

This study was commissioned by the Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC) of Transparency Maldives (TM). Established in 2012, ALAC started out as the first free legal aid centre in the Maldives and over the years the majority of the clients that seek assistance from ALAC has been migrant workers – one of the most marginalised groups in the Maldives. ALAC has assisted migrant workers in accessing justice in relation to various issues, including human rights violations, immigration and labour related issues, and injustices related to corruption.

The purpose of the study was to develop a profile of migrant workers in the Maldives, identify the key stakeholders and issues related to the migrant worker system, and recognise migrant worker trends in the Maldives. The study was undertaken through the completion of a mapping exercise and evaluation of the state mechanisms and systems which deal with migrant workers in the Maldives, in an attempt to identify systemic gaps and loopholes that are supportive of the potential for acts of corruption. The study focuses on the practices, processes and procedures that are prone to corruption in relation to the migrant worker system at the national level.

View/download the Maldives Migrant Worker System Assessment

The year 2014 started with a major advocacy success for Transparency Maldives (TM) with the passage of the landmark Access to Information Act following 5 years of campaigning by TM. After a politically turbulent year in 2013, TM looked to 2014 with more determination to address governance issues in the country and strengthen its programs and interventions, based on the lessons learnt in 2013. In addition, a change in the leadership of TM as well as the board of TM in 2014 meant that there was new opportunity for the organisation to invoke new ideas and strategies based on the foundations laid by predecessors.

As in previous years, we continued with our engagement and outreach in communities across the country, undertook research to understand corruption loopholes in various sectors, held discussions with multiple institutions and raised our voice on various platforms to advocate for the cause we believe in.

In the past year, we were also fortunate to receive exposure opportunities for our staff to share knowledge and learn from partners in the region and strengthen our collaboration and partnerships with multiple stakeholders to drive our agenda of change. Our engagements with various stakeholders from local councillors and youth actors to international partners always provide us with new insights to shape our programs.

Unlike previous years, in 2014, we travelled across the country to deliver civic education to young people as we believe the state of democracy in the Maldives requires a long term strategy of education for young people on democratic values and grassroots mobilisation to strengthen democracy in the Maldives.  As such, our ‘Democracy Talks’ in schools and ‘Civic Forums’ in various islands proved to be immensely eye opening and rewarding.

We also focused on shaping policy and transforming behaviours through a series of high level events, roundtables and lobbying on issues related to corruption, democracy, and migrant worker rights to name a few. Most notably, we drafted an Associations Act in line with international best practice and standards and held a symposium to bring stakeholders together to collectively lobby for a best practice NGO law in the Maldives.

Despite immense governance challenges for the country, and the precarious environment in which TM operates, TMs efforts to promote good governance and eliminate corruption has been possible through the tireless dedication of its staff, who continue to put in extraordinary effort, as well as our board members, who give their time and expertise to guide the work of TM.

TM is grateful for the generosity of its funders and the time given by volunteers and interns who have continued to believe in our cause.

Annual Report 2014

Criminalising the offence of illicit enrichment is a matter or urgency in the Maldives. Several studies and surveys undertaken by Transparency Maldives to assess the public perception of corruption in the Maldives indicate the prevalence of grand corruption by officials at the upper echelons of the state. The Global Corruption Barometer Survey undertaken in 2013 indicate that while 97 percent of respondents believe that corruption is a problem at the public sector, the Parliament – followed closely by political parties and the judiciary – is perceived to be the most corrupt institution in the country. This finding corroborates with the Democracy Survey conducted in 2013, which found that representative institutions such as the Parliament are where the public have the least confidence. Allegations and speculations of corruption in the public sphere is common, particularly with regards to illicit enrichment in parliamentary floor crossing and Cabinet Ministers’ sudden increase in significant wealth.
View/download the position paper ‘Criminalising illicit enrichment to curb grand corruption in English and Dhivehi.