Local council elections will be held as scheduled on 18 January for all councils – with the exception of Villingili constituency of Gaafu Alif Atoll Council – even without the signatures of all candidates voters lists, the Elections Commission (EC) has said today.
EC President Fuwad Towfeek said the elections would be held as planned on Saturday from 7:30am till 4:30pm. He said that the signing of voters lists have been completed for just 81 out of 464 ballot boxes.
“It will be meaningless to continue with just these boxes, so we have decided to continue voting at all boxes,” Thowfeek said.
“Even though it is required we have experienced that it is an impossible task, so holding the election within the legally mandated time frame instead of going on with this would be best for the country,” he said.
The EC noted that all political parties have signed the voters list with the exception of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) who have not signed 62 of the lists. Instead of each candidate signing the lists, the EC has allowed the political parties which the candidates represent to sign on their behalf.
However, independent candidates still have to sign each list on their own, and this, according to EC is the biggest challenge regarding the voters list. Only 147 out of 543 independent candidates competing in the elections have signed the lists so far.
Thowfeek said some candidates have complained about not being able to afford traveling to capital Malé just to sign the lists, and requested the EC to pay for their expenses for staying in the capital.
The EC said they had sought the Attorney General’s legal advice on the matter in order to find a resolution, though the office has twice ignored their request.
Court’s impact on polls
A Supreme Court ruling annulling the first round of presidential elections in 2013 requires that all candidates in an election should sign the voters list at every single box in the country. The EC criticized the guideline as a restriction to carrying out its mandate.
EC President Thowfeek noted that, in contrast to the presidential elections, this election would be much more complex, with 2463 candidates running for a total 1100 seats – 951 island council , 132 atoll council and 17 city council seats.
“In the presidential elections a single ballot paper was used at all boxes, however in this election we are using 268 different ballot papers. Officials and voters should also pay attention to this,” he said.
This, according to Thowfeek, would make it more difficult to get the signatures of all candidates even if the voters lists are sent to each one.
According to the EC, the only council for which the election will be delayed is Gaafu Alifu Atoll Council election – which was delayed following a Supreme Court verdict concerning a candidate rejected by the EC.
The candidacy of Masud Ahmed for the Villingili seat was invalidated based on a Criminal Court document indicating a prior offence. However, when Masud challenged this decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the EC decision to reject his candidacy was itself invalid.
While Masud was sentenced for one year’s house arrest in 1995 for sexual misconduct with a then 18 year old, the Criminal Court said he had a record of “sexual abusing a child or ‘outraging modesty’ of a person”. The Supreme Court verdict pointed out that Masud’s sentence does not fit into either of these categories.
EC member Ali Mohamed Manik said that, since the verdict came while the election was so near and the candidate will require time for his campaign, the Commission has decided to delay the constituency’s election.
EC members raised the issue of a budget shortage as a major challenge. Council elections were initially scheduled for December 2013 and so the funds were included in the 2013 budget. The funds were subsequently not included in the 2014 budget.
The total budget proposed by the EC for 2014 was MVR87 million – already cut down from required approximately MVR95 million to fit the ceiling set by the Finance Ministry – and was later reduced to MVR59 million.
The EC says this amount is sufficient for now, though the commission estimates that after the parliamentary elections this year there will not be any money left.
According to the Commission, there is a pending MVR30 million debt after the presidential elections and companies are refusing to issue services on a credit basis or to lend money to EC.
Commission members stated that they were fully prepared for the elections and that elections officials will start leaving for islands and abroad on Thursday.
While acknowledging that all institutions, including the Maldives Police Service, have assured their cooperation, EC President Thowfeek requested all state institutions, political parties, and members of the public to work with the commission to make the local elections a successful one.