Commonwealth commends Maldivians for peacefully exercising right to vote

Commonwealth Observer Group in Maldives for 2023's presidential elections holds a press conference on preliminary findings on September 11, 2023. (Sun Photo/Mohamed Shaathiu Abdulla)

Commonwealth Observer Group has commended the people of Maldives for the peaceful and orderly manner in which they exercised their right to vote on Saturday.

Commonwealth Observer Group held a press conference on Monday to share their preliminary statement with respect to Saturday’s election. They are a group of eleven independent and eminent persons drawn from every region of the Commonwealth, who arrived in the Maldives on September 2nd.

Speaking at the press conference, chairman of the group, former Seychelles president Danny Faure the election process – from campaigning, to voting and announcing the results – had proceeded under comprehensive arrangements, with peace and order, without much significant issues.

The preliminary statement provided key findings of the group on the pre-election environment, the group’s observation of the election day, and their views of the post-election stage so far.

Faure said observers, to understand the pre-election environment, met a range of stakeholders in the week leading up to the election which included political parties, representatives from civil society, youth and media, the Elections Commission, police, and judicial administration, and diplomatic missions.

He also noted that members of the group were deployed to various atolls, where they engaged with local stakeholders: including Gaaf Dhaal, Lhaviyani, Dhaalu, Haa Dhaalu, Seenu and Laamu atolls.

Faure said the feedback received by the group encouraged that pre-election environment has been largely peaceful and that it affords the civic and political space to express dissenting opinions.

“The fundamental rights of candidates, political parties and supporters to assemble and campaign were broadly observed,” he added.

However, he highlighted the continuing relevance of some of the concerns raised by previous Commonwealth Observer Groups about the preelection environment such as allegations of vote buying; the misuse of state resources, the need to develop a more effective regulatory framework for campaign financing; the independence and regulation of the media; and the need to continue strengthening civic education.

Two other recurring issues noted the group were the need to enhance the independence of state institutions in Maldives; and to strengthen the separation of powers between the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary.

“In any election, citizens’ perception about the independence of the institutions of the state is critical for public confidence in a level playing field. It is our hope that the political leadership of Maldives, including the eventual winner of this Presidential Election, will prioritise the need to strengthen independent state institutions, while continuing to enhance the democratic and civic space in Maldives in an inclusive and holistic way,” Faure added.

Commonwealth Observer Group in Maldives for 2023's presidential elections holds a press conference on preliminary findings on September 11, 2023. (Sun Photo/Mohamed Shaathiu Abdulla)

With respect to the election day, the group commended the polling officials for their dedication, professionalism and diligence in the conduct of their duties.

They also underscored the inclusivity among voters, with priority being given to persons with disabilities (PWDs), elderly people, and pregnant women in most polling station.

They highly commended the introduction of the template ballot paper (stencils) for visually impaired voters – a first in a Maldivian election.

Apart from this, the group also underscored the presence of party observers, candidate representatives, and citizen, and international observers at all polling stations, who conducted their duty actively and peacefully – in addition to police presence at all polling stations, describing them to have been unobtrusive and carried out their duties professionally.

The group, however, did raise concern regarding the positioning of some polling booths, for example in smaller rooms at schools, which could have potentially compromised the secrecy of the ballot.

Faure said that the closing and counting procedures were effectively followed, with a high degree of transparency.

However, in light of the high number of invalid ballot papers, the group recommended further improvements in voter education.

“We commend the people of Maldives for the peaceful, calm and orderly manner in which they exercised their franchise on 9 September. I also wish to acknowledge the Elections Commission of Maldives and polling staff for the transparent and efficient manner in which the election was conducted,” Faure said.

Those with grievances were urged by the group to address disputes through prescribed legal channels.