The 2019 Maldives Parliamentary Elections were conducted in a peaceful, credible, transparent and inclusive manner, declared the Commonwealth Observer Group in its final report on the elections.
In a 44-page comprehensive report on the proceedings of the April 6 polling, the Group noted that electoral campaigns were peaceful and that the rights of candidates, political parties and supporters to assemble and campaign were respected.
The report stated that the Elections Commission (EC) was well prepared for the elections, and was professional and efficient in administering the electoral process. The Group commended the professionalism of the polling officials, highlighting that a significant number of them were young women. The report underscored that voter identification was thoroughly checked, and that the secrecy of votes was ensured.
They also noted that monitors, candidate representatives, and observers from political parties and the general public were present at polling stations, further highlighting the discreet but helpful presence of police officers on the scene.
The Group stated that the media operated with ease and freedom during the polling, highlighting that no complaints were lodged at the Broadcasting Commission regarding any media outlets, up to the election day.
Thus concluding that the elections were free and fair, the Commonwealth Observer Group commended the EC "for the smooth conduct of the polls and the quality of training demonstrated by the polling officials". The Group also praised the public for maintaining peace and order during the elections.
"We are confident that these elections will provide an opportunity for their leaders, including the newly constituted People’s Majlis, to continue consolidating democracy in Maldives".
Despite the overall positive conclusion of their observations, the Commonwealth Observer Group highlighted some points of concern, in particular the low numbers of female candidates in the elections.
The Group pointed out that despite the overwhelming numbers of women present as polling officials, only 35 of the 386 parliamentary candidates were female. They called on political parties to ensure that women occupy leadership posts and to facilitate more women candidates.
"We urge the People’s Majlis, political parties and all relevant stakeholders to play their part in implementing the gender equality stipulations detailed in Maldives’ Gender Equality Act of 2016".
Other recommendations by the Group include eliminating vote-buying, ensuring transparency of campaign financing, regulating political party funding, enforcing regulations to govern the behaviour of broadcasters and media, during elections.
The Group also recommended the government to consider establishing a Disability Registry, and to produce an updated National Youth Policy and reinstate the National Youth Council. The report called on parties to follow EC's example in ensuring room for youth participation in politics, and suggested the inclusion of more civic education in the curriculum to promote greater understanding of politics.
The eight-member Commonwealth Observer Group, chaired by the former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Bruce Golding, was present in Maldives from March 30 to April 13. The Group was established by the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland, upon the invitation from EC's chairperson Ahmed Shareef to observe the elections.
The report noted that although the Commonwealth does not observe elections in non-member countries, it made an exception for Maldives as the archipelago, which withdrew from the Commonwealth in October 2016, applied to rejoin the organisation in December 2018.