The political and institutional environment in the Maldives has not been conducive to the adaptation of meaningful and concerted electoral reforms, the Electoral Follow-up Mission (EFM) by the European Union (EU) has stated.
In the report released Thursday, the EU EFM noted that neither the government, nor the parliament, nor the opposition had sought to address the issue of electoral reforms and highlighted how it has not been a priority on the domestic political agenda.
In 2014, the EU Election Observation Mission (EOM) had found “grave deficiencies” in the right to vote, stand for election and the protection of the secrecy of the vote. Campaign finances regulations and monitoring, vote buying, and a lack of legal certainty were noted among the main issues in the Maldives’ electoral process.
As such, it made 22 recommendations to improve the electoral process in line with the country’s international obligations and commitments, most notably to the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
However, the EU follow-up report revealed that the Maldives had implemented only one recommendation, related to the promotion of gender equality, out of the 22, and that four were partially implemented.
The EU EFM report showed that, with the adaptation of the Gender Equality Act in 2016, which outlawed both direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of sex, the Maldives had only fully implemented this recommendation.
Meanwhile, recommendations pertaining reducing discrimination in family and inheritance laws, enacting new legislation on minimum requirements for registration and operation of political parties, and efforts to foster media pluralism and facilitating the development of community broadcasters were hailed for being partially implemented.
Among the cache of recommendations that were not implemented include revising Article 9 of the Constitution, which states that only Muslim citizens can vote, and Article 73 of the Constitution, which states only a Sunni Muslim citizen can stand for election.
The report’s recommendation that these Articles of the Constitution be revised had created controversy in the public.
The Maldives government had also overlooked the review provision of criminal law dealing with electoral offences and codifying the rules in the new Penal Code, reviewing the operation of the existing complaints and appeals mechanism and introducing an alternative model, as well as updating the Elections (General) Act 2008, Broadcasting Act (2010) and Media Council Law 2008 to clarify the mandates of regulator bodies, according to the EU EFM.
“In the past four years, the Maldives has experienced increasing political tensions, characterized by a widely reported deterioration in the respect for fundamental human, political and civil rights, and a loss of trust in state institutions,” the report read.
It had also emphasized how the European Parliament and the United Nations had repeatedly criticized the politicized judiciary and the use of arbitrary arrests as means of pressuring political opponents, adding that “freedom of expression and freedom of assembly have been curtailed by recent amendments to the legal framework.”
The key recommendations that were highlighted in the EU’s initial report in 2014 included: enhancing suffrage rights and freedom of expression, promoting gender equality, limiting the use of administrative resources and prevent vote buying, regulating campaign finances and the functioning of political parties, enhancing protection for the secrecy of the vote, and ensuring legal certainty in the electoral process.
The EU had deployed the EFM in two phases; the first in September 2017, and the second in January 2018. However, the EU follow-up report noted that “the timing and length of phase two did not allow the experts to conduct all the technical consultations required to fully assess the state of implementation of most of the 2014 EU EOM recommendations.”
It had also noted that some key meetings, most notably with President Abdulla Yameen and the Supreme Court, were not granted, while only one meeting was held with the Elections Commission and the joint opposition coalition.