Election Observation Report: Presidential Elections 2013

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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.