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Maldives: Election fever in blogosphere

Categories: South Asia, Maldives, Elections, Governance, Politics, Protest

The presidential election being held in Maldives is the first multi-party election in the country. This election is believed by many Maldivians as their chance to bring democracy to a country that has been ruled dictatorially by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom since he became president in November 1978.

Gayoom has ruled for six terms without contesting opponents in elections; only yes or no referendums were held to secure his position as President for each five-year term. The outcome of the first round of election on October 8 was not enough to decide if Maldivians will finally be able to have a different government or whether Gayoom will assume office for a seventh term.

Since there was no clear winner securing over 50% of the votes, there will be a run off on October 28 between Gayoom, who received 40.61% of the votes and Mohamed Nasheed (Anni) of Maldivian Democratic Party, who received 25.08% of the votes.

In the first round there were five opposition candidates and it is believed that the votes of the people who want change were divided among them. However, almost all opposition candidates are now united in an alliance that is backing Nasheed. The opposition groups were quick to point out that since Gayoom received only 40%, it shows that 60% of Maldivians want change.

The election is the hottest topic in Maldivian blogosphere now. Most of the bloggers are sensing that this election is an opportunity for change, a view shared by Simon [1]:

The vote for change has worked and although I am still skeptical and still cautious I cannot help feel a tingle of happiness. Why the optimism? First and foremost because Dhivehin have proven to be much more steadfast and desperate in their quest to see change. And this is what is seen in the vote counts.

I can almost feel the winds of freedom from this oppressive and corrupt regime coming to an end today. I can feel it when I close my eyes. Let us unite now and show solidarity in our collective desire to see change. Let us say enough is enough in the next round.

We are almost there…

Muizzu also writes [2] along the same line of thinking:

The first round of the elections has shown to the people that, the Man for All Islands who used to get ‘Commended reports’ since the beginning could only barely get a ‘Pass’, and that also (reportedly) after cheating before and during the exam!

It is imperative upon every single Maldivian…, to stand up and do whatever he/she can (legally) do to materialize this very important milestone in the journey of change….

However, buying out voters is an issue in this election because it has been discovered that the government had offered cash to several voters tempting them to vote, as noted by Abdullah Waheed [3]:

Because of the wide income gap between the rich and poor…, well-heeled politicians can afford to pay attractive prices to the impoverished population for their votes.

Rumors abound that during the October 10 election prices ranging from 500 rufiyaa to 2000 rufiyaa changed hands. For some groups, rumors say, payment was made in kind: heroin.

Vote buying does not come alone. Like every carrot on offer it also comes with its own stick: threats of serious consequences such as job losses and property confiscation.

The role of cash in the election has also been noted by the blog Maldives Dissent [4] which also reports some suspicious appointments:

The auditor general has pointed out, in his latest report, that Gayoom made several appointments to the posts of atoll chief, deputy atoll chief and assistant atoll chief in the run-up to the elections. According to the auditor general, the appointments were made “to promote DRP's presidential campaign.”

It has been noted by a blogger in the police service [5] that attempts are being made inside Maldives Police Service to influence how members of police force vote:

In recent days there have been both covert and overt campaigning or propaganda to influence officers to incline to or go against a particular candidate. Talk of commissioned officers, text messaging subordinates to influence their voting right has become common….To add on, the use of social networking website, Facebook by police officers to message, propagate and also the failure to action against such acts proves that campaigning is going on.

Past elections in Maldives have been marred by allegations of rigging and intimidation by government as reported by Maverick [6].

Despite attempts to intimidate people and bribe them, most people are excited and hopeful that this election will change their lives. They are thirsty for reform, a view shared by Maldives Health [7] blog. Many people are exhausted from years of work for reform. Loamaafaanu [8] explains the various emotions that pass through the mind of democracy activists as they struggle with the long and hard work of reform:

What began as a slow, hidden and tortuous process has evolved to become a loud, public display of – occasionally false – affection between the country’s various political actors and the members of the public. At times, it is fake, messy, dirty and downright disappointing. Whereas, at other times, it is inspirational and life changing,. Either way, I can’t seem to keep myself away from it. I am utterly consumed, and thus exhausted both mentally and physically. [..]

We are a country in transition, and such a transition from an authoritarian regime to democracy takes time and consistent socialization.

It is not only Maldivians who are excited by this election. People of other nationalities are observing and showing solidarity with the Maldivians who are struggling for freedom and democracy, as a letter sent to Maldives Votes blog notes [9].

You have a right to vote and you must vote. Saying to your children in years to come I didn’t vote because I couldn’t be bothered is not an option. Your vote is important.