EU expresses concern over lightly regulated campaign finance framework

The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) holds press conference to unveil preliminary findings on Saturday's election on September 11, 2023.

The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM), in their preliminary findings on the September 9th presidential elections, have expressed concern over the lightly regulated and poorly enforced campaign finance framework and the lack of transparency of candidates' income and expenditure.

Chief Observer, Nacho Sánchez Amor, a member of the European Parliament from Spain, presented the findings during a press conference on Monday.

EU EOM, in their findings, noted that the electoral legal framework provides an adequate basis for the conduct of democratic elections broadly in line with regional and international standards subscribed to by the Maldives.

However, they stressed that the pre-election environment was affected by allegations of instrumentalizing state resources for campaign, the lightly regulated and poorly enforced campaign finance framework, and the lack of transparency of candidates' income and expenditure.

EC cited the Elections Commission’s (EC) lack of capacity to adequately carry out this task despite being responsible for scrutinizing campaign finance reports as the main reason behind the failure to address the aforementioned issues.

However, they said EC performed its work impartially and professionally, complied with legal deadlines despite staff shortages and made several procedural improvements to the administration of voter registration, conducted in a transparent manner.

Additionally, they also noted that the conduct of polling and counting was orderly and efficient and in accordance with polling procedures, with few irregularities reported – while praising the provision of a tactile ballot guide that facilitated the independent voting of persons with visual impairment for the first-time ever.

EU EOM emphasized that questions were raised about equity in the campaign due to the frequent allegations of instrumentalization of state resources, including through state-owned enterprises.

“Although the public media allocated free and paid airtime to all candidates as legally required, in news and editorial programmes, they blurred the lines between governmental functions and campaign activities. Private TV channels showed a clear political bias,” they highlighted.

EU deployed 40 observers from EU member states as well as Canada, Norway and Switzerland who visited 124 polling stations in 52 islands, including in Male and 12 atolls across the Maldives.

The mission is set to remain in the country till the conclusion of the process, to assess the second round, complaints and appeals process of the presidential election.