Maldives Elects New Leader

UNDP provided strategic support to the Elections Commission in the tightly-contested Presidential Election

Flag-lined streets of Male’, looking festive during the campaigning period. Photo: Jane Dinh 2013
Flag-lined streets of Male’, looking festive during the campaigning period. Photo: Jane Dinh 2013

On 17 November 2013, the Maldives saw the inauguration of new president Abdullah Yameen Abdul Gayoom, a day after his runoff victory ended a long and highly-contested election process. Yameen secured the majority of the votes, winning over the country's first democratically elected leader Mohamed Nasheed, by a tight margin.

 

The contesting candidates were praised by the people and the international community for their strong statesmanship, which resulted in a smooth transfer of power. However, it has not been an easy journey for the tiny island nation. The final results were announced after an unexpectedly prolonged course, with the elections being postponed on multiple occasions. Despite a much polarized and divided process, the people's desire for a free and fair election was not dampened, as was evidenced by the flocks of Maldivians lining outside polling stations eagerly looking forward to cast their vote in the long-awaited final leg of the elections.

 

 “I want us to climb out of this rut and end all this political turmoil. I’m voting today for better job opportunities and brighter prospects for my aging parents. In the end though, I hope that whoever comes to power is able to mend this deep divide between the people,” said voter Lamya Ibrahim, queuing outside a school in Machangoalhi ward to cast her ballot.

 

Lamya Ibrahim, after casting her vote. Photo: Haveeru Online 2013
Lamya Ibrahim, after casting her vote. Photo: Haveeru Online 2013

With voter turnout at more than 91 percent, this was a good indication of the support to the electoral process from partners such as United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with a view to improving the quality of political participation, to further consolidate democracy in the Maldives.

“We are pleased to have established strong partnerships with communities, national institutions and international partners to support a well-participated election, and provide space for dialogue and strengthen commitment to democracy in the country. The quality of the preparations and the conduct, and the acceptance of the results of the elections demonstrate resilience of the people and their commitment to moving forward for a stronger and more prosperous Maldives,” said Azusa Kubota, acting Resident Representative of UNDP Maldives.

Highlights

  • Voter turnout at more than 91 percent, despite a lengthy and drawn-out election process
  • UNDP assisted EC to launch for the first time in the country, a nationwide voter education programme for the 2013 presidential election
  • Maldives does not have a civic education component in the school curriculum - educating young voters was specifically identified as a priority
  • UNDP supported training of trainers, who in turn trained 3000 polling officials
  • Youth dialogue series, community dialogue sessions, public lectures and media information sessions held to disseminate critical information and discussions around the elections

UNDP’s Integrated Governance Programme supported the presidential election, as well as strengthened, in support of the nation's own efforts - the sustainability and credibility of the electoral process and provided capacity building and technical assistance to the institutions involved in this process (namely the Elections Commission). This support entailed working with youth, women, and communities to maintain interest and engagement throughout the lengthy and difficult process.

One of the posters developed to educate on Election Day conduct
One of the posters developed to educate on Election Day conduct

UNDP assisted the EC to launch for the first time in the country, a nationwide voter education programme for the 2013 presidential election, following a workshop on voter education messaging held with political parties, media and local NGOs. All available media were used to deliver voter education materials. This included the distribution of over 50,000 booklets to all atolls. Key messages on election processes, including those displayed in 1000 posters focusing on the voting day process and additional 1000 posters on assisted voting were disployed outside polling stations across the country. A total of six different messages on posters (6000 copies per poster) were also visible throughout the capital Male' and atolls. Six video spots and three radio spots were broadcast nationally and on social media, which generated over 44,700 views on Facebook and other online sources.

 

All these materials featured the official logo and branding concept developed for the voter education campaign, titled ‘Faahaga’. The campaign provided important information and key messages on issues such as the right to vote, the value of voting, and voting day procedures. The aim was to make the election an informed, free and fair election. An online campaign around this was also launched, specifically targeting youth groups. EC has now trademarked the ‘Faahaga’ logo and this logo will be used in all future voter education programs conducted by the electoral body.

 


Man photographed holding the ‘Faahaga’ logo as part of the social media campaign. Photo: Elections Commission/UNDP Maldives 2013

In the 2013 presidential election, 30,000 new voters were included in the voting list and 100,000 voters out of the approximate 240,000 voters were young voters. Given that Maldives does not have a civic education component in the school curriculum, educating young voters was specifically identified as a priority.

“Whenever someone asks me who I am voting for, I say ‘Nubunaanan’ (‘I won’t tell’). I saw this on TV, and thought it would be a good line to deter the nosy types. It works!” explains new voter Izaan Ismail, alluding to how one of the video spots developed for the voter education campaign (to highlight that the vote is confidential and to discourage people from being pressured by parties, family or friends into voting for a specific candidate), helped shaped his outlook of the election process.

UNDP also supported training of trainers, who in turn trained the polling officials for the election. Master trainers provided Training of Trainers to 70 selected trainees. These trainers in turn trained approximately 3000 polling officials, based on the curriculum developed with UNDP assistance earlier in the year.


One of the ‘election fever’ theatre sessions. Photo: UNDP Maldives 2013

A youth dialogue series titled ‘Elections Fever’ was piloted in July, to create a space for youth to express themselves in light of the divisions and conflicts arising due to the elections. More than 200 youth attended the series, and many participated in the discussions that followed the plays based on the community-based theatre concept. In addition to this, community dialogue sessions, public lectures and media information sessions were held to disseminate critical information and discussions around the elections. In the final days of the process, a video spot encouraging stability and respect for one another was produced and aired with the slogan of ‘Everybody wants a peaceful election’.

“We will continue to actively pursue our mandate to assist in improving electoral processes. We are working with national partners to build autonomous institutions and support democratic processes in order to meet the people’s aspirations for democratic governance and advancing human development,” UNDP’s acting Resident Representative said. Following the success of the presidential election, UNDP is gearing support towards the upcoming parliamentary and local council elections of the Maldives, slated for 2014.

UNDP’s Integrated Governance Programme has been providing technical and advisory support to national stakeholders and institutions, including EC in its preparation for the 2013 Presidential Election, with support from multiple donors, including UK, US and AUSAID.  Additionally EU, Germany, DGTTF, BCPR and UNDEF supported related activities, such as support to electoral assistance and dialogue etc. The rolling out of the voter education campaign was supported by local media partners and civil society groups and was managed under the auspices of the United Nations Development Programme in the Maldives. It was implemented in partnership with the Elections Commission of the Maldives.