Once again, political dissidents in the country are accused of using black magic to influence a vote
It’s been a big week for election fraud. Paul Manafort was convicted on eight criminal counts, but the exploits of Trump’s ostrich jacket-owning campaign chairman have nothing on the methods used in the Maldives to allegedly alter the outcome of elections.
This week, Maldivian authorities arrested four men on suspicion of using sorcery and black magic to sway the country’s September 23rd presidential election in favor of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party. Among the accused is one high-ranking civil servant and another administrative officer.
While details of just how the accused planned to use fanditha (sorcery) and sihuru (black magic) to influence the island nation’s election aren't available, past precedent suggests it could have something to do with coconuts. Back in 2013, black magic practitioners were accused of placing a “cursed coconut” near a polling place in Kaafu Atoll. The fruit from Maldives’ national tree had been marked with Arabic characters and allegedly imbued with black magic powers to sway the thoughts of potential voters, though “white magic” experts ultimately determined it was a fake. A year later, parliamentary candidate Mohamed Nihad blamed his defeat on an opponent’s use of black magic-laced coconuts buried in various locations around his constituency.
The unconventional confluence of coconuts and spiritual curses may seem unusual to Western observers, but there are a few reasons the practice is common in the Maldives. Coconut trees are abundant across the archipelago’s many islands. In addition to their usage in traditional construction methods, the coconut fruit itself is sometimes used in spiritual practices. Maldivian law also doesn’t expressly forbid the practice of magic: sorcery is regulated by Ministry of Health licensing, and black magic, while frowned upon, isn’t technically illegal.
“During elections black magic is used to gain votes and make people ill,” said the president of the Spiritual Healers of the Maldives, Ajnaadh Ali, around the time of the 2013 incidents. “While any object can be used, because coconuts represent a life structure (like eggs) they use those objects to make the spell powerful, with the advice of the devil.”
The latest arrests take place in a broader context of political turmoil and election anxiety that dates back several years. The Maldives’ supreme court would go on to throw out the initial results of that 2013 election. In February of 2018, parliament dissolved and a state of emergency was declared. The September 23rd election was likely to stoke political tensions regardless. But in this age of email hacking and astroturfed Facebook campaigns, it’s perversely comforting to know that some parts of the world still rely on old-school electioneering methods.