Vote buying and selling plague elections not just in the Maldives, but also in a host of third world countries. Because of the wide income gap between the rich and poor in such countries, 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. An interesting twist to the tale is the allegation that vote sellers were made to swear upon the Holy Quran to ensure they voted for the buyer. This innovation could be the reaction to an Election Commission regulation that camera phones are not allowed in the polling booth. The regulation came in the wake of rumors during the August 2007 referendum alleging that money was disbursed on producing photos of 'correctly' marked ballot papers.
Apparently politicians need not have bothered to take all this trouble. Scientific research has shown that an overwhelming majority of vote sellers are too simple to think of double-crossing after taking money. The honesty of ordinary folk ties them down to their words. Ironically therefore, the more honest the people are, the more crooked the rulers.
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. Research shows that such threats also work because the people are too simple to realize that they often have legal protection from such threats.
No foolproof solution has been found for vote selling, at least in the short term. In the long term however poverty alleviation and voter education are believed to work.