Few Maldivians appear to believe the October 8th election will be free and fair. This general trend however is broken by two very illustrious exceptions. One is President Gayoom, of course. The other is –hold your breath –Mohammed Nasheed (Anni). Strange bed fellows? Probably not. Despite Jumhoori Party accusations, there appears to be no plausible reason to believe Anni and Gayoom are collaborating on this matter. Rather, they may have their own unique and independent reasons for endorsing the election.
Gayoom's reasons are rather easy to guess. He has been widely accused of electoral malpractice during his 30-year rule, an accusation he vehemently denies, like he did in TVM's Siyaasath program recently. Such denials are absolutely necessary to defend the legitimacy of his rule. So it's not surprising he should be claiming all elections, past, present and future to be free and fair.
What IS surprising is Gayoom's nemesis, Mohammed Nasheed (Anni), should also be endorsing the election. Speaking to diplomats based in Colombo last week, Anni said the coming presidential elections will be the most fair and free election ever in the entire South Asia region. Why did he say this?
The clue to this mystery could be a statement Anni made later at the same meeting. He told the gathering he was "confident of winning the elections, with opinion polls for the past three weeks keeping him in the lead." Thus he probably believes he will win the election despite any possible rigging against him, like he did in the 1999 Majlis election. So what's the point in condemning an election he believes he is going to win anyway? (Did a winning football team ever complain about refereeing?)
Public opinion on the other hand is quite clear. In an SMS poll conducted recently by TVM, 75% of respondents did not believe the election will be free and fair. Perhaps their opinion is based on past experience. Accusations of electoral malpractice have been rampant throughout recent history, though few of these ever went to the stage of being proven. Here is a selection of some of the more interesting allegations:
- Transfers of government servants in the atolls for the election period based on 'lists';
- Island travel restrictions on government servants perceived to be negative;
- Using government servants to campaign for 'officially endorsed' candidates;
- Island chiefs physically blocking voters from casting negative votes;
- Fishing out and replacing negative votes in the box;
- Chiefs putting 'yes' marks en-masse for absent voters;
- Favoring islands that produce the perfect 100% result.