The Elections Commission (EC) would be in “a difficult situation” if the president ratifies the decentralisation bill but vetoes the complementary local council elections bill, EC President Fuad Thaufeeq has said.
If the president leaves more than a 28-day period between the ratification of the two bills, said Fuad, the EC would not have enough time to prepare for the elections.
President Mohamed Nasheed has said he will veto the local council elections bill as article four of the legislation woul disenfranchise “half the electorate” as it requires citizens to be present in their registered constituency to be able to vote.
“If he ratifies the decentralisation bill first, it states that elections should take within 150 days,” Fuad said. “But the other bill, the local council elections bill, gives a period of 122 days. So even if the Majlis passes amendments as soon as possible, say in June, we won’t have enough time to prepare.”
He added that the EC believes the two bills should be ratified together in order to avoid the clashes.
Moreover, if an amendment is passed to allow remote voting, the EC would need “double the funds to allow people to vote anywhere”.
The EC would need “a lot of manpower” as there would be 279 constituencies and some islands would require 100 different kinds of ballot paper.
The EC did not raise concerns with article four as it would be fairer for those living in their registered constituency or island of birth to elect local government representatives.
“It would be better for those who actually live in the island to be able to vote than those who are registered,” he said.
In his weekly radio address on Friday, President Nasheed said article four would disenfranchise “at least 60,000 people” from the atolls currently residing in Male’.
Nasheed said he would ratify the bill only as “a last resort”.
“In my view, it is not the right thing to do. It is not a good bill,” he said.
Mohamed Zuhair, president’s office press secretary, said parliament had to bear responsibility for the problems as “they passed the bill knowing all these periods were in there”.
In addition to problems regarding process, he added, the president had to consider economic, social and legal ramifications.
“We can’t sacrifice content or substance because it could compromise the process,” he said. “But the president hasn’t made a final decision and he will serious consideration to these issues.”
Although article four did not allow for remote voting in the original draft legislation submitted by the government, MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) proposed an amendment to allow people to vote anywhere in the country.
However, the amendment did not garner bipartisan support as MPs of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) voted against it.
Vili-Maafanu MP Ahmed Nihan said the DRP said he participated in a “heated debate” at a meeting with the EC over article four.
Nihan said the DRP agreed to keep the article unchanged based on the EC’s recommendations and the government’s assurances.
“We passed the bill the way it was sent to us by the Attorney General,” he said. “Now [MDP] are trying to blame us. We have said we will submit an amendment to allow everyone to vote even if takes three times more money.”
Nihan said the DRP parliamentary group was ready for an emergency sitting of parliament to vote on amendments, but added that the president should ratify the bill first as further delays would put the government and the Majlis “on the back foot”.