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India barred from covering Maldives presidential polls

Even as around 2,60,000 Maldivians are set to cast their vote on Sunday, questions rise over the fairness of the elections.

Even as around 2,60,000 Maldivians are set to cast their vote on Sunday, questions rise over the fairness of the elections.

The Abdullah Yameen government has barred free and open coverage of the island nation's third-ever multi party presidential election since 2008 by barring many international journalists from traveling to Maldives to cover the elections. None of the news organisations from India has got visas to travel. Although there is "visa on arrival" for Indian citizens, business visas were required for those who wanted to cover the September 23 Presidential polls.

The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) denounces recent developments in the island nation of Maldives, which ensure that the upcoming presidential election of September 23 cannot be considered free and fair.

While the Yameen administration continues to maintain that elections would be "free" and "fair", it has received flak from all quarters. International observers such as the EU and the UN are not sending teams because the government has failed to comply with the Supreme Court order of February 1 to release all political prisoners and reinstate the 12 ousted MPs.

Calling the latest "obstruction" of media outlets and observers, The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) said that this was the latest sign of "polling misconduct".

"The political environment in the country is heavily tipped in favour of the ruling party, as critical media are being subdued into silence, and opposition figures sentenced to jail terms or forced into exile for politically motivated charges," ANFREL said in a statement.

The Elections Commission named journalists from The Wire, The Economic Times, The Hindu, and WION as "international observers." However, journalists have said that their visas to travel to the Maldives have either been denied, or not issued.

Devirupa Mitra of the Wire said, "I checked with my sponsor last night after the immigration authority statement and tweets. He also checked again and I haven't got the approval for the visa."

Many international media outlets and organisations are calling this the high stakes game between India and China. A pro-Yameen government news network recently put out a documentary "Is Maldives going to be another Sikkim?", alluding to India as a coloniser and misrepresenting facts.

Responding to a specific question on the documentary, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, "On the second question regarding a report telecast on Channel 13, we have seen the telecast of the documentary. The content are absolutely fake, motivated and is a malicious attempt to malign India."

While sources in India say they are monitoring the situation on the ground with a lot of "concern", they have pinned their hopes on the people of the island nation.

"We are absolutely confident that the people of Maldives know the truth and will see the design behind telecasting this documentary at this critical juncture before the elections", said Raveesh Kumar.

While the President Yameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), is seeking a second term in the name of "transformative economic development", the opposition has put up a coalition candidate, senior lawmaker Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, led by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to bring back democracy in this Indian Ocean archipelago.

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