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Maldives: The First Free Parliamentary Election

The Maldives has witnessed significant political changes in the last five years: introduction of political parties in 2005; ratification of an amended constitution in August 2008; and the first multi-party election held in October 2008 which brought a democratic government. Hence, the parliamentary election held on May 9 was crucial as the new parliament will be entrusted with the task of passing key laws that will be a milestone in the country’s transition to democracy.

In a heavily fought battle for 77 seats, based on new constituencies drawn by the amended constitution, more than 400 candidates contested. After the election fever has calmed down, with the campaign songs off the airwaves and candidates’ posters slowly peeling off the walls, the country is slowly returning to normal. However, the outcome of this election will have an impact that will last for a few years.

The results show the dominance of the two major political parties; Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) which came to power in last year’s presidential election and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) which is controlled by the former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. While some see this as the integration of party politics in Maldivian society in what was the first real test of party system in the country, others fear a two-party dominance that will suppress minority views. Surprisingly the election results also showed some MPs who had been involved in the process of democratic losing their seats to newcomers.

Blogger Abdullah Waheed gives some reasons for the failure of some veteran parliamentarians in this election, in his blog post ‘Some big guns misfire.’

Waheed also writes about lessons that major political parties and players have learned from this election and concludes that the electorate has widely accepted the party system in the Maldives.

The electorate has given a strong thumbs-up signal to the party system, as indicated by the overwhelming success of party candidates, many of who were unknown and would have ended with 2 digit results without party backing. While it is true that 13 independents won, some of them are not really independents in the usual sense of the word.

Mohamed Nasheed, the former Minister of Information, and an MP-elect, who won a constituency running as an independent despite being a member of DRP, echoes the same view in his blog.

The picture that seems to come out of the recent parliamentary elections is that the Maldives is primarily consumed in the novelty of party politics. The larger part of the country seems to be religiously engulfed in the political euphoria created by two main rival parties: MDP and DRP. There does not seem to be space for any other party or political view to flourish.

Nasheed is also of the view the outcome of the election will be beneficial for the Maldives as neither of the two major parties won a controlling majority of the parliament.

I am happy that the parliament that has been created out of these recent elections is neither controlled by MDP nor by DRP. Although DRP together with its ally PA has earned slightly more seats than MDP, they fall short of a controlling majority.

None of the parties in the upcoming parliament should be able to run the show as it pleased. Decisions in parliament should be made through an inclusive process of dialogue and deliberation. A nation divided by its politics, and polarized by its personalities, requires at these crossroads, a consensual approach to governance. A parliament of one party would deny the room for such a deliberative process.

Both MDP and DRP are trying to woo the independent candidates who can change the parliament’s direction to some extent by aligning with a party. Nasheed’s blog post has generated some very interesting comments. Among them, a commenter Fayaz shares his view on the parties’ rush to win remaining independents elected for the parliament, although his criticism is focused on MDP.

MDP supporters, still smarting from this huge loss and unable to digest the reality may continue to kid themselves that their performance was fantastic. There is an all out effort by MDP to buy MPs at whatever cost, especially those independent MPs. Now isn’t this this just too pathetic? I mean for a political party whose middle name is “Democratic” – to resort to this sort of tactics to over turn the will of the people speaks volumes about the principles of MDP and what they stand for.

Blogger Iddu laments about candidates he describes as ‘young and patriotic’ losing to candidates who are rich and powerful.:

Some candidates who won the seats were alleged for corruption and yet swept away a large majority and won their seats. This shows our public being blindfolded by a group of influential people in the society for financial gain from such candidates.

He also notes that some candidates were not in touch with the real issues affecting the constituencies.

Some candidates who won the seats have hardly put their feet on the soils of their constituencies and others who claim to belong to them have never seen the sunrise on their constituencies. We may be highly educated, rich and influential and belong to a strong political party, but understanding the aspirations and dreams of local communities is not something one can earn by just visiting their constituency once in a blue moon.

The scale of this election was overwhelming for the Elections Commission and the public grew increasingly frustrated as there were delays in announcing the results. Simon thinks the delay in announcing the results could be attributed to lack of preparedness of the Elections Commission as well as other stakeholders.

I feel the responsibility for the crude and utterly ridiculous speed of processing of the ballots must be shared between the EC, the media, the voting public and the parties involved.

The EC totally underestimated the complexity and size of the task. Which is why, according to EC, they failed to release the results sooner raising suspicions in public and party circles. But I did not realize the level of their ignorance of secure, high-tech tools available today until I saw the arrays of fax machines lined up at the EC headquarters. Fax machines and faxes are old and unreliable technology. A member of the advisory committee for the EC even admitted that some faxes were not clear. What did they expect from faxes?

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