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MDP Presidential Primary Election: Low voter turnout as the polls close

28 January 2023, MVT 18:09
The two candidates contesting in the MDP Presidential Primary Election held on Saturday, 28th January 2023
28 January 2023, MVT 18:09

Polling stations have opened for the anticipated Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s presidential primary election, to select the party’s candidate for the upcoming presidential election slated for 9 September.

The two candidates contesting are incumbent President and Leader of the party Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Speaker of the Parliament and the party’s President Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed is candidate number one on the ballot, and Solih is candidate number two.

Voting began at 9:00 a.m. and is set to close at 5:00 p.m.

MDP, the biggest political party in the Maldives, has 57,255 eligible voters.

This is a historic election for the MDP for many reasons. This is the first MDP primary where a sitting president is contesting, and the two candidates contesting are the only two leaders to have been elected to office from the party.

Nasheed and Solih led competitive campaigns; both candidates were critical of each other’s policies, and throughout their campaigns, they both maintained they would win the election by a large margin.

An MDP member voting in the party's presidential primary election held on 28th January 2023.

09:30: Delays in opening polls due to discrepancies

An incident occurred near the Raa atoll Alifushi and Raa atoll Dhuvaafaru ballot box placed in Iskandhar School, Malé. A Mihaaru News reporter on site said that the disagreement was caused because the two constituencies are required to vote in the same ballot box even though the voter registries for the constituencies were compiled separately. Voting has not commenced on this ballot box yet.

Another discrepancy was reported at the polling station in Addu City. There was a delay in opening the polls as there was an issue with the number of ballot papers; however, at around 9:45 a.m., voting began.

Polling station in Hithadhoo, Addu City. PHOTO: AHMED HISHAM / MIHAARU NEWS

MDP's Deputy Chairperson Ibrahim Waheed said that despite some delays, voting has begun in the majority of the polling stations across the country. The electoral monitors for both candidates raised the issue of combined ballot boxes for separate voter registries.

Voting has not yet begun in Vaavu atoll Fulidhoo and Vaavu atoll Felidhoo. Officials had mixed up the boxes and took the Felidhoo ballot box to Fulidhoo, and Fulidhoo's box to Felidhoo. Voting will commence on these two islands at around 11:00 a.m., the electoral officials said.

Mohamed Nasheed’s electoral agent MP Hassan Latheef alleged that due procedures were not followed in Laamu atoll Mundoo polling station. He said that voting had begun at 8:35 a.m., before polling officially commenced and the monitors nominated by Nasheed arrived at the venue.

Two electoral monitors nominated by the candidates are to be placed near each ballot box.

11:00: Both candidates vote

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, one of the contestants, has cast his ballot in the MDP primary. He voted in the Lhaviyani atoll Hinnavaru ballot box placed in Iskandhar School. Solih voted at around 10:50 a.m.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih casting his vote in the MDP presidential primary election on 28th January 2023. PHOTO: FAYAZ MOOSA / MIHAARU

Speaking to the media after casting the vote, the President said that he believes he will win the election and that he trusts the party to conduct a free and fair election.

Speaker of the Parliament Mohamed Nasheed voted at the ballot box placed in Jamaluddin School at around 11:00 a.m. Nasheed, who was the first MDP president elected in 2008, left the polling station immediately after voting without addressing the press.

Speaker of the Parliament Mohamed Nasheed after casting his vote for the MDP presidential primary election, at the polling station in Jamaluddin School on 28th January 2023. PHOTO: FAYAZ MOOSA / MIHAARU

12:45: Special hotline setup to lodge complaints regarding voters' registry

The issue of people who are not on the registry casting ballots escalated shortly after voting began.

Voting had to be temporarily halted in Gaafu Dhaalu atoll Hondaidhoo after someone who was not on the voters’ registry cast a vote, according to the constituency’s MP Hussain Firushan.

Similarly, the Gaafu Alifu atoll Villingili polling station had to be temporarily closed.

MDP’s electoral committee said that the voters lists at polling stations were amended per the complaints filed during the period allotted and that the registry was approved by the party.

MP Eva Abdulla expressing concern regarding discrepancies in the G.A. Villingili voters list, at the polling station in Thajuddeen School, Malé, on 28th January 2023. PHOTO: FAYAZ MOOSA / MIHAARU

MDP Deputy Chairperson Waheed also confirmed that they were receiving complaints regarding the registry. However, he noted that they were not major discrepancies. An incident where someone who was not on the voters list, casting a ballot in the Gaafu Alifu atoll Villingili box placed in Thaajuddeen School, Malé, is being investigated, he said.

Waheed said that the party shared the voters’ registry with the candidates prior to the election, and both Nasheed and Solih had endorsed it.

MDP has dedicated a special hotline to file complaints regarding the ongoing election.

Nasheed’s campaign team was adamant about MDP’s voter registry being rigged. They maintain that over 39,000 party members were expelled without the members' knowledge.

14:15 Allegations of voter fraud, scuffles and tussles

The South Maafannu ballot box placed in Hiriyaa School, Malé, had to be temporarily closed after allegations that an individual who was ineligible to vote cast a vote in the election. The ballot box was closed after 151 votes.

The incident deteriorated further after supporters of the two candidates got into a heated argument. Mid-Maafannu MP Ibrahim Rasheed had to be escorted out of Hiriyaa School during the scuffle; however, he was allowed back into the voting hall after the situation cooled down.

Reportedly, the two groups had threatened each other. A video of the incident showed a man attempting to hit someone else with a chair. The MDP members at the polling station physically controlled the men and prevented the incident from escalating.

At around 3:30 p.m., in Gaafu Dhaalu atoll Thinadhoo, the ballot box was smashed open and the ballots were thrown around the polling station. Witnesses at the scene said that the brawl erupted after a Nasheed supporter allegedly took a picture of his vote. Police officers were also deployed to control the scene. There were also allegations of ballots being stolen during the incident. Thinadhoo-South MP Abdulla Saneef injured his hand amidst the disturbance.

The brawl that took place in Aboobakuru School, G.Dh. Thinadhoo during MDP's presidential primary election on 28th December 2023 --

In Gaafu Dhaalu atoll Rathafandhoo, two individuals were arrested for damaging the ballot box; reportedly, these individuals are also Nasheed supporters.

The electoral monitors for both candidates urged their supporters to be cordial and to maintain peace.

17:00: Low voter turnout as the polls close

The norm in the Maldives is longer queues when the polls close; however, the scene was drastically different in this MDP election. The voter turnout was lower than predicted.

While some ballot boxes have been closed already, others remained open a little after 5:00 p.m. because polling started late in these stations.

Because polling began late in Raa atoll, the Ungoofaaru ballot box at Iskandhar School will remain open until 7:00 p.m.

By 5:30 p.m., there were still 720 people in line near the Raa atoll Alifushi ballot box, which was placed in Iskandhar School.

Meanwhile, some islands have even begun counting votes.