While the international community is distracted by the ongoing tragedy in Syria, apparent election fraud is threatening efforts to restore democracy in what was until recently considered a bright spot for nonviolent democratic change in the Islamic world. In the Maldives, popular former president Mohamed Nasheed – who was deposed in a coup last year -was expected to easily win a majority of the vote in the first round of Saturday’s election against three other candidates. However, the results show him getting less than 46% of the vote, forcing him into a runoff with Abdulla Yameen, half-brother of the former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, whose allies seized power from the democratically-elected government in February 2012 and have ruled the small island nation ever since. There are a number of troubling indicators that major fraud may have occurred in the election held on September 7, which raises questions regarding the integrity of the September 28 runoff. The official turnout reported by the media at the close of the polls was 70%. However, based upon the announced results, the official turnout was raised to an improbable 88%. A number of voting districts in which Yameen was popular reported anywhere from 10% to 300% more votes cast than there were eligible voters.
If the belated claims of a record turnout are to be believed, it would mean that 80% of the country’s non-voters were in the capital of Male, a stronghold of the pro-democracy movement, leaving only 5,000 non-voters on the country’s remaining 191 inhabited islands. Though there were international observers at many polling places, there appear to have been none at the more remote sites of the inflated vote totals. Without those alleged additional votes, Nasheed would have easily won the first round outright.
Though the Election Commission had originally announced that the results would be known by 11:00 that evening, they claimed at a press conference at that hour that they did not yet have the turnout figures, despite electronic marking of voters which should have made that information available instantaneously. While insisting that they sent out no more ballots than there were eligible voters, the quality of paper ballots was such that it would have been easy to make passable photocopies.
It appears, then, that the election was compromised by old-fashioned ballot-stuffing, a regular occurrence back during the Gayoom regime, which is apparently being used again in an effort to bring his half-brother to power and thwart the democratic hopes of the Maldivian people.