The Local Council Elections Bill, adopted by parliament on May 4, will potentially exclude one fourth of the population from voting unless it is amended, according to a statement from Transparency Maldives (TM).
The bill, which has been sent back to parliament by the president and is now being reviewed by committee, required people to vote in their home constituency and contained no capacity for remote voting. With many islanders working in the capital Male and other locations around the Maldives such as resorts and industrial islands, TM warned that nearly 55,000 people could be restricted from voting.
“Our basic concern is that 25 percent of the voting population will lose their right to vote unless this bill is amended,” said Aiman Rasheed from TM.
People had the option to travel, he acknowledged, “but pragmatically speaking that is not going to happen. If everyone in Male’ left to go vote, entire operations would shut down.”
DRP MP Ahmed Nihan explained that the sheer scale of the Local Council Elections, with potentially upwards of thousands of candidates across the many island councils, was a logistical and administrative challenge the independent Elections Commission (EC) would be unable to deal with.
“I strongly believe the EC does not have have capacity to conduct such an election with thousands of candidates. Their budget for holding elections in 2010 is around Rf 22 million,” he said.
“We are genuinely concerned about this election because our constitution says we have to hold it – on July 1 last year – and we are far behind. If government is genuine, we should do everything to make it as inclusive as possible.”
Nihan noted that the government had put forward the bill at the same time as the decentralisation bill, and criticised the ruling MDP for miring it in “many other amendments”. DRP had passed the Local Council Elections Bill “just as the Attorney General sent it.”
MDP MP Eva Abdullah observed that “MDP proposed an amendment but DRP shot it down because they had the majority at the time. Now the opposition has conceded the voting issue, we are hoping this will be quite speedy.”
Nihan however said “it was a DRP idea to make it more inclusive.”
Rasheed from TM said he would not comment on the politics of the bill, but noted that “Both major parties want to remove the restrictions on people’s ability to vote.”
“We understand the administration and logistical challenges, but there are alternatives like postal ballots. During previous elections the EC has been proactive in finding a solution,” he said.
The EC said it would not comment, other than to say it was “prepared to run the election however the Majlis decides.”