Election preview: Maldives

Well, not much of a preview really, since there’s very little around in the way of information about the election itself. And the Maldives are not a major player in any case – they only have a population of about 330,000, squeezed into about 300 square kilometres of land area (albeit on an island chain that stretches for some 750 km).

Nonetheless, it would be remiss not to mention the Maldives legislative election being held tomorrow. Readers may remember the presidential election there last year, in which a long saga finally resulted in the election of the establishment’s candidate, Abdulla Yaameen, half-brother of the country’s former dictator.

The last legislative election, in 2009 (the first multi-party contest in Maldives history), left things finely balanced. Neither the Maldivian Democratic Party, the party of then-president Mohamed Nasheed, nor the opposition Dhivehi Raiyithunge Party won a majority, but the latter appears to have had practical control with the aid of minor parties and independents. That control was instrumental in forcing Nasheed’s resignation in 2012.

So with Nasheed narrowly defeated in last year’s presidential poll, control of the legislature would again be a vital matter. But the election was thrown into confusion last week when the Maldives Supreme Court convicted all four members of the Electoral Commission of contempt of court, dismissing both the chief commissioner and his deputy and handing the chief commissioner a six-month suspended jail sentence. (The BBC report says all four received jail terms, but that’s contradicted by other reports.)

It’s well known that some professions are at more risk than others from malpractice litigation, but even the safer ones sometimes run into trouble. One thinks of the Italian seismologists convicted of manslaughter for failing to predict a 2009 earthquake, or the various cases of pilots and air traffic controllers being prosecuted for aviation accidents. I’m not aware, however, of any previous case in a democracy of action like this against election officials.

The Commission’s offence is that it tried to persevere with last year’s election on more than one occasion despite legal problems – at one point in October the police forcibly prevented voting from taking place, ostensibly relying on a court order.

But its real offence would appear to be that, unlike most of the Maldives institutions, it was not part of the concerted movement to remove Nasheed from power and prevent him from returning.

Assuming the election goes ahead in some form, it will be a typical British-style affair of first-past-the-post voting in single-member constituencies: 85 of them, increased by eight from last time “to account for demographic changes”. The electorates are very small (in 2009 most of them had fewer than 2,000 voters), so counting shouldn’t take long, although in current circumstances, who knows?

Whether by fair means or foul, it seems likely that the new president’s supporters will maintain their hold, as the Maldives edge back towards their authoritarian past.

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