Freedom in the World

Maldives

Maldives

Freedom in the World 2014

2014 Scores

Status

Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

4.0

Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

4

Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

4
Ratings Change: 


The Maldives’ political rights rating improved from 5 to 4 due to the largely free and fair presidential election held in November 2013, despite several delays and repeated interference by the Supreme Court.

Overview: 

 

A presidential election was held in Maldives in November 2013, following several aborted attempts; Abdullah Yameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) ultimately prevailed. The polling, as well as the conduct of the Election Commission (EC), was deemed by both local and international observers to be free and fair, with high voter turnouts. However, repeated interference by the Supreme Court in the election weakened the overall democratic process.

The election followed the tumultuous events of 2012, in which President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) was forcibly removed from power after his administration’s January 2012 arrest of judge Abdullah Mohamed. In 2013 Nasheed faced a politicized court case relating to the arrest, and briefly took refuge at the Indian embassy in Malé in February; in April, his trial was postponed until after the election and remained unresolved at year’s end.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

 

Political Rights: 19 / 40 (+2) [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 7 / 12

Under Maldives’ 2008 constitution, the president is directly elected for up to two five-year terms. The unicameral People’s Majlis is composed of 77 seats, with members elected from individual districts to serve five-year terms.

Parliamentary elections held in May 2009 were largely transparent and competitive. Former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Maldivian People’s Party (DRP) won 28 of 77 seats, while the MDP captured 26.

A presidential election was held on September 7, 2013; turnout was almost 90 percent, and the process was deemed free and fair by both local and international monitors, including the independent EC. Former president Nasheed secured 45 percent of the vote, but failed to win enough votes to avoid a runoff. Abdullah Yameen, a half-brother of former president Gayoom and leader of the PPM, won 25 percent, while Gasim Ibrahim, a tycoon and resort owner, finished third with 24 percent. Sitting president Mohammed Waheed Hassan, who had replaced Nasheed the previous year, garnered only 5 percent.

Gasim challenged the results, and the Supreme Court issued rulings—based largely on a secret police report—nullifying the results and calling for a new first-round vote to be held by October 20. The court also designated the police to play a substantive role in handling the logistics for the election, and enumerated a list of 16 conditions for the election to take place; among them was a requirement that all candidates had to approve the voter lists prior to election day. The EC’s attempt to hold a new election on October 19 was aborted when two of the three candidates—Gasim and Yameen—refused to sign the revised voter registry and the police refused to allow the election to move forward.

The election was finally held on November 9, with results broadly mirroring those of the September poll; Nasheed won nearly 47 percent of the votes, while Yameen received nearly 30 percent and Gasim again came third. In a runoff—which was delayed from November 10 to November 16 by the Supreme Court—Yameen pulled off a surprise win, aided by a last-minute endorsement from Gasim, taking 51 percent of the vote to Nasheed’s 49 percent. Nasheed conceded, and Yameen was inaugurated as president on November 17.

 

B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 7 / 16 (+1)

Following several decades of rule by Abdul Maumoon Gayoom, Maldives’ first multiparty presidential election was held in 2008, and the MDP’s Mohamed Nasheed, a former political prisoner, triumphed over the incumbent. A number of political parties operate, and recent elections have been very competitive. The Political Parties Act, which restricts parties from registering and accessing official funds unless they have more than 10,000 members, was passed by the parliament in December 2012. The law was vetoed by President Waheed, but the parliament overrode the veto in March 2013 and the law took effect. As a result, 11 of Maldives’ 16 parties were dissolved, including Waheed’s Gaumee Itthihaad Party (GIP).

Former president Nasheed faced charges of abuse of power in 2013, which the MDP claimed were politically motivated. The high court issued a stay on proceeding to try the case in April 2013, pending investigation of the legality of a special court that had been established to adjudicate it, and the case remained unresolved at year’s end. A number of other opposition lawmakers also faced being removed from their seats due to what the MDP alleged were politicized court cases; two were stripped of their seats by the Supreme Court in late October.

Political violence remained a concern in 2013, as the MDP faced some harassment surrounding attempted protests in support of Nasheed, although less than the previous year. The Supreme Court, the military, and the police repeatedly interfered in the electoral and democratic process in 2013.

 

C. Functioning of Government: 5 / 12 (+1)

The government functioned more regularly in 2013, allowing the election of a president from the political opposition. Nevertheless, political polarization and uncertainty, as well as corrupt behavior such as vote-buying, limited elected officials’ effectiveness in crafting policy or passing legislation. A law mandating access to government information is not implemented in practice.

The 2008 constitution and an independent auditor general have provided greater transparency in recent years, shedding light on pervasive corruption within all branches of government. An Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), established in 2008, investigates cases of suspected corruption, but its work is hampered by inadequate manpower, and the vast majority of cases do not result in convictions. In 2013, the ACC requested that corruption charges be lodged against a former police commissioner; it also investigated the GIP regarding the issue of fraudulent party enrollments. In July, the ACC ruled out corruption regarding the lease of the Malé airport to the India-based company GMR Infrastructure; the government insists that the contract was illegal and will likely pursue the issue in court.

 

Civil Liberties: 29 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 7 / 16

The constitution guarantees freedoms of expression and the press. However, journalists and media outlets faced attacks and harassment throughout 2013 as they attempted to cover the year’s political turmoil, and news coverage has become more polarized since the February 2012 change in government. In March 2013, Ibrahim Waheed, the head of news at the pro-opposition Raajje TV, was attacked with an iron bar in Malé, and on October 7—the day the Supreme Court delayed the election—the station’s offices were destroyed in an arson attack. The blocking of Christian websites by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs remains an issue. In July 2013, a political art show organized by Raaje TV was canceled after a government ministry refused access to the exhibition site.

Freedom of religion remains severely restricted. Islam is the state religion, and all citizens are required to be Muslims. Imams must use government-approved sermons. Non-Muslim foreigners are allowed to observe their religions only in private. In recent years, the rise of conservative strands of Islam has led to more rigid interpretations of behavior and dress, particularly for women, as well as an increase in rhetoric—and occasional physical attacks—against other religions as well as those who espouse more tolerant versions of Islam. There are no reported limitations on academic freedom, but many scholars self-censor.

 

E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 7 / 12

The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, but a restrictive law passed in December 2012 limited the ability to protest outside of designated areas, required the media to have accreditation to cover protests, and defined “gatherings” as a group of more than one person. Preemptive detention is sometimes used to deter citizens from participating in protests. Police regularly used excessive force against peaceful protesters in 2013, including tear gas and pepper spray, and also beat and strip-searched unarmed civilians. In October, 65 MDP supporters were arrested following demonstrations protesting the delayed presidential vote.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) struggle with funding and issues of long-term viability in a weak civil society environment, but a number of NGOs operate freely and comment on human rights and other sensitive issues. Harassment of NGOs increased in 2013, with threats and official investigations directed against Transparency Maldives and other groups that weighed in on sensitive political developments.

The constitution and the 2008 Employment Act allow workers to form trade unions and to strike, and a labor tribunal was established to enforce the act. Strikes do occur, although workers can sometimes face repercussions for industrial action. In February 2013, police broke up a strike by resort workers, arresting two. Nearly 30 others were dismissed from their positions with the resort.

 

F. Rule of Law: 7 / 16

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and a Judicial Services Commission (JSC) was established in 2009 to separate the judicial branch from the executive. However, a report released in early 2013 by a UN special rapporteur raised concerns regarding the transparency and politicization of the judiciary in general, and the JSC in particular. The role of the Supreme Court in repeatedly delaying the presidential election and nullifying the first round also raised concern.

Civil law is used in most cases, but it is subordinate to Sharia (Islamic law), which is applied in matters not covered by civil law and in cases involving divorce or adultery. As a result, the testimony of two women is equal to that of one man, and punishments such as internal exile and flogging continue to be carried out. Access to justice remains difficult for the substantial number of migrant workers in the country.

The constitution bans arbitrary arrest, torture, and prolonged detention without adequate judicial review. The abuse of individuals in custody remains a problem, although some cases are investigated by Maldives’ Human Rights Commission (MHRC). Amid the political turmoil of 2012, protesters and political activists were arrested, detained, and tortured in custody, with MDP supporters in particular targeted for harsh treatment; there were fewer instances of these problems in 2013. An antitorture bill passed in December empowers the MHRC to combat the practice. The past several years have seen an increase in gang activity and violence, often linked to drugs and organized crime. More recently, political parties have used gangs to engage in political violence and attacks against opponents.

Religious minorities do not enjoy equal protection under the law. LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) individuals encounter societal intolerance; same-sex sexual conduct is prohibited by law and can draw penalties including house arrest, banishment, and lashes. Two men were charged with engaging in homosexual acts in August 2013.

 

G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 8 / 16

Freedom of movement both within and outside of Maldives is provided for by law and is generally allowed in practice. The close relationship between business owners and politicians led in 2013 to allegations that workers at some of the islands’ tourist resorts had been fired due to their political sympathies or had been pressured to vote for a particular candidate in the presidential election. Property rights are generally weak, with most land owned by the government and then leased to private owners or developers.

Women are increasingly entering the civil service and receiving pay equal to that of men, though opportunities are sometimes limited by traditional norms, and women hold few senior government positions. Domestic violence against women is widespread, but a 2012 law criminalized several types of violence and provided protection for victims. International human rights groups have urged reform of severe legal punishments that primarily affect women, including the sentence of public flogging for extramarital sex. In a case that led to an international outcry, a 15-year-old rape victim was sentenced in February 2013 to 100 lashes and eight months of house arrest; the verdict was overturned by the high court in August. Efforts to address human trafficking have been sporadic and largely ineffective, and the exploitation of migrant workers, who comprise an estimated quarter of the country’s population, is widespread.

 

Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology