THE venue of the first South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit held in Male, the Maldivian capital, in 1990 was almost empty at 2 p.m. on September 5. The Elections Commission of Maldives (ECM) had organised a training session for foreign observers and monitors that day. Just before the clock struck 2, India’s former Chief Election Commissioners—J.M. Lyngdoh, B.B. Tandon and N. Gopalaswami—accompanied by the Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives, Rajeev Shahare, walked in to the hall. Only a handful of the more than 100 election observers were in attendance. As they explained the nuances of the electoral process, the keen CECs took notes and cleared their doubts: it appeared more like a classroom. The delegation of Indian election observers was in the Maldives at the invitation of the ECM ahead of the presidential election on September 7. Ever since two of the three former CECs arrived in Male on September 1, the High Commission had arranged a series of meetings with various stakeholders so that the former got attuned to the realities of Maldivian politics.
There were six teams of Indian observers, four of which observed polling in Male and the surrounding islands of Villingli, Hulhumale, Thulusudhoo, Huraa and Bandos. One team visited the Hithadhoo, Maradhoo, Feydhoo, Meedhoo and Hulhudhoo islands of the Seenu Atoll (Addu) in the south and another team visited Kulhudhuffushi, Hanimadhoo, Dhidhoo and nearby islands in Haa Dhallu and Haa Alifu Atolls in the north. Overall, the Indian delegation covered 158 polling booths, that is, 33.6 per cent of the total number of booths in the country.
In a joint statement issued on September 8, the Indian observers said that every candidate had the time and security to campaign. The statement said:
“The polling was orderly and unblemished by any notable incident. It was also an enjoyable experience for the voter. The voters’ lists were accurate and prominently displayed. The ballot boxes were opened and closed as per the scheduled time. The discipline, patience and dignity of the voter and the sheer competence, industry and cheerfulness of the election staff were quite admirable. The police were ubiquitous but discreetly non-intrusive.
“The counting did try everyone’s patience, each bundle of ballot papers having to be counted and recounted by Elections Commission personnel. The mutual trust between the candidates’ representatives on the one hand and between them and the counting personnel made adequate amends.
“The success in the first round is an achievement which any of the mature democracies would have been proud of. This was a transparent and fair election and there is no reason why the run-off should be any less than the first round.”
The observers will return to the Maldives on September 24, ahead of the second round to be held on September 28.