On 23 September 2018, the Maldives elected opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, senior lawmaker of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) over Progressive Party incumbent Abdulla Yameen. The young democracy’s elections have been scoured in allegations of corruption and questionable circumstances, dating back to the original nomination of President Yameen.
Yameen rose to power in 2013 after a highly criticized and originally slim margined election, defeating then President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, also of the MDP.
The Maldivian Supreme Court annulled the original election results 7 September 2013 and canceled the first rerun election after the discovery of roughly 5,000 registered voters who were either dead or fabricated. The first attempted rerun was then halted by police filling voting facilities and preventing the use of voter materials as apparently not all candidates had signed off on the new voter registry.
In the end, Yameen won the rerun elections- with his voter majority increasing from 29% to 51% from the first to second round elections. While his main opponent, former President Mohamed Nasheed’s margins increased by only 2% between the first and second round votes.
Yameen has had several accusations of corruption against him, including money laundering, embezzlement, and the unlawful leasing of many Maldivian islands to tourism companies without legal tender.
Yameens reign did not operate only behind closed doors, as earlier this year he cracked down on political dissent by jailing many of his political opponents. Including Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Yameen’s half brother and dictator of the Maldives for 30 years prior to their democratic shift, for allegedly clearing the way for Yameens impeachment. Yameen also jailed two Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Ali Hammed.
Furthermore, Yameen declared a state of emergency under the guise of national security concerns in February of 2018, lasting until 22 March 2018 to block his impeachment. However, the extension into March was not lawfully permitted, as parliament had only 38 members condone the extension where the Maldivian constitution requires a minimum of 45.
In addition to the unlawful jailing of his political opponents and questionable declaration of a state of emergency, the Yameen administration has heavily limited freedom of speech and expression. Passing the Defamation and Free Speech Act, which imposes unreasonably hefty fines for slander that “contradicts a tenet of Islam, threatens national security, contradicts social norms, or encroaches on another’s rights, reputation, or good name”. Failure to pay fines could result in jail time and/or the termination of the newspaper or media source.
However, president Yameen’s record of unlawful practices is far from the only concern casting a shadow of doubt over the archipelago nation’s elections.
Former President Nasheed is currently living in exile in London, after being handed a 13-year prison sentence under the Yameen administration, for allegations of coup involvement. He was barred from running in the 2018 election, and victor Sohil was nominated to replace Nasheeds candidacy.
Furthermore, The Maldivian Elections Commission, a five-member panel, has been a source of doubt for vote legitimacy during the 2018 presidential elections.
Questions about the authority of the commissions non-partisanship date back to early May, just after the fading Yameen’s state of emergency that swallowed public attention in February and March. Beginning with the appointment of commission member Mohamed Shakeel to state minister of economic development on 2 May 2018. Shakeel’s commision resignation, new appointment, and confirmation were all accomplished in one afternoon.
Shakeel was then replaced by Ahmed Shareef, a loyalist of President Yameen. Shareef was confirmed by 33 of 85 parliament members, with his new colleagues then proceeding to vote him in as President of the EC. Addressing concerns over party loyalty at a press conference following the commission's vote Shareef stated “I guarantee to the Maldivian people that in my work in the Elections Commission I will not be influenced by a previous professional responsibility I had or by my previous political views”. Conversely, Maldivian Democratic party speaker Imthiyaz Fahmy stated the party had “no trust in his independence”.
Following the September elections, four of five EC members have fled to Sri Lanka due to intimidation and threats. Shareef stated on Thursday that hoards of Yameen’s supporters had gathered around the houses of EC members, accusing them of rigging elections and accepting bribes from the opposition party.
The outcry follows a petition submitted on Wednesday by Yameen’s lawyers to contest the election results due to “serious allegations of vote rigging, fraud, malpractice and corruption.”. Though the Yameen campaign is seeking retribution through the Supreme Court, there has been no definitive public statement on the type of reconciliation they want. Many are accusing Yameen of attempting to maintain his grip on power after originally conceding defeat to Sohil.
There have been no public decisions made by the the High Court or the Supreme Court at this time, and the election results have been endorsed by many foreign countries including Maldivian ally and supporter India, as well as the United States.