An upcoming election in the Maldives

Where incumbency advantage is permanent

The incumbent’s control of the state apparatus and the consititution’s structure make it difficult for the opposition to win — even if the election itself is free and fair, writes the Head Heeb.

Gerrymandering will also work in favor of the government. Under article 64 of the constitution, each administrative atoll returns two members to the Majlis regardless of population. This means that the capital of Malé, which is home to more than a quarter of the Maldives’ population, has as many representatives as Vaavu Atoll (population 1,800). The capital and other heavily populated atolls are opposition strongholds, while hte outlying islands tend to vote for establishment candidates. Add to that the fact that eight of the 50 members of parliament are appointed by the president, and even a fair vote seems all but unwinnable.

The Maldives dilemma illustrates the flaws of a focus on process: free campaigning and fair balloting matter little when the constitution is rigged. And this is where Gayoom has thus far been successful in gaming the system; he has repeatedly promised reform only to stall it with endless proposals and studies. This means that the EU’s short-term goals in the Maldives must be modest, most likely limited to ensuring a reasonably fair campaign in which a few opposition candidates can get elected. Over the medium term, it can push for electoral and press law reform so the opposition can engage the public in a real debate over the country’s future. All this will require a sustained commitment beyond a single election, and it’s unclear whether the EU is interested in such a long-term effort so far from its borders; ultimately, that sort of engagement might better come from India. [The Head Heeb]