One-third of electorate deprived of true representation: TM

The current local government system deprives one-third of the electorate of true representation, governance NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) has said.

One-third of the electorate base their living in the capital city Malé or in other islands, however, they are only allowed to vote in their permanent or registered constituency, TM noted in a position paper on today’s local government elections.

Hence, the current system “deprives” one-third of the electorate of true representation and “defeats” the purpose of a decentralised administrative system.

“The only way to achieve true representation would be to pave the way for people to vote in the constituencies where they actually live. This is the basic tenet of decentralisation, and it empowers people to hold local councils accountable for decisions that directly affect their lives,” the NGO recommended.

The position paper also called attention to three additional issues in the current electoral system – application of the Supreme Court’s 16-point electoral guideline, the electoral dispute resolution mechanism and ensuring secrecy of the ballot.

Supreme Court’s guidelines

TM said it does not believe the Supreme Court’s guideline improves the existing legal framework on electoral administration.

The Supreme Court issued the guideline in its verdict annulling the first round of presidential polls held in September 2013. The guidelines mandate candidate signatures on the voter registry, use of the Home Ministry’s Department of National Registration’s (DNR) database to compile a new registry, and police oversight on transport of ballot papers and boxes.

In October 2013, the Maldives Police Service obstructed polls at the eleventh hour after the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and the Jumhooree Party (JP) refused to sign the voter lists.

Transparency Maldives has expressed concern over the opportunity provided by the guideline for political parties and candidates to obstruct the electoral process and said the guideline undermines the independence of the EC in organising and administering elections free from undue external influences.

“The People’s Majlis is mandated with making and amending laws, and hence the Majlis must immediately review the Supreme Court’s 16-point guideline and authorities should revert to using the existing legal electoral framework,” the NGO recommended.

The Commonwealth Observer Group who monitored the presidential polls has also called upon the Majlis to examine the consistency and workability of the guideline.

The guideline “appeared to undermine the authority of the Election Commission, were inconsistent with or contrary to electoral law, and were at odds with the constitution,” the Observer Group said in its final report.

In addition, TM has also called for greater cooperation between the EC, the Maldives Police Services, the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC), the Prosecutor General, and the Majlis in establishing accountability mechanisms to address transparency in political financing, bribery, vote buying, misuse of state resources for campaigning, and violations of the code of conduct on campaigning.

Secrecy of the ballot is not ensured in the local government and parliamentary elections, in situations where one of a few individuals have to register to vote in polling stations other than their constituencies, such as in resorts and industrial islands, TM said.

Transparency Maldives has recommended the setting up of a mechanism to ensure secrecy of the ballot for all citizens who have to vote away from their constituencies.


Supreme Court invalidates anti-defection clause in Decentralisation Act

The Supreme Court has on Tuesday invalidated clause 119(e) of the Decentralization Act, which had prevented a councilor from switching political parties after he was elected.

The clause was brought into force following an amendment proposed to the Act on January 2011.

The Supreme Court’s seven-member bench held that the concerned clause contradicted the articles 30(a) and 26(c) of the constitution.

The case was filed by Independent MP and lawyer Ibrahim Riza and Lawyer Ahmed Shaheem who argued that the clause was unconstitutional. Jumhoree Party (JP) Youth Wing Leader Moosa Anwar also intervened in the case.

The article 119(b) of the Decentralisation Act states: “Those elected under a ticket from a political party shall lose his seat if he leaves or he is removed from the party he was when elected.”

The new verdict by the Supreme Court will mean that councilors can now switch from party to party without losing their seat.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed ratified the act on May 2010 but rejected a complementary bill on local council elections.

Nasheed at the time said that his then Attorney General (AG) Husnu Suood advised the president’s office that although the decentralization bill would not hamper the implementation of government policies, some provisions were “legally questionable.”

“If the bill becomes law, both the attorney general and this office has noted that there could be legal problems in enforcing it without amendments,” he told the press.

He echoed similar sentiments on the bill in his weekly radio address at the time where he stated that he would sign the bill into law despite misgivings as any further delays would do “more harm than good”.

“I hope that after I ratify this bill, amendments will be made as soon as possible, within the present framework, to change the provisions where these conflicts could arise,” he said at the time.

Although then opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) removed the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s concept of provinces from the government’s bill, Nasheed said the Act did not prohibit the creation of province as it stipulates that new legislation would be needed to form “province councils.”

Despite opposition from MPs in opposition claiming that grouping atolls into seven provinces was unconstitutional as 21 administrative areas or atolls were clearly specified in the constitution, Nasheed later established provinces in an administrative level.

The bill was subjected to several amendments and court cases.

Last August, the Supreme Court ruled that provisions of the Decentralisation Act were not in conflict with the constitution.

In March 2011, former State Minister for Home Affairs Mohamed ‘Monaza’ Naeem filed a case at the apex court arguing that some provisions of the Act contradicted the unitary nature of the Maldivian state as laid out in the constitution, and requested the conflicting articles be struck down.

Naeem had argued that the Local Government Authority (LGA) created by the Decentralisation Act was not answerable to any government minister while article 140 of the constitution states – “A member of the cabinet shall be given responsibility for each authority or institute established by the government or the People’s Majlis, except for independent institutions specified in this constitution or established pursuant law. Such member of the cabinet must take responsibility for the operation of such authority or institution and must be accountable for it.”

Previously, several councilors lost their seats following removal from their respective political parties.

In March this year, Noonu atoll Maafaru Island Councilor Anwar Abdul Ghanee lost his seat after he was removed from his party Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) but contested the by-elections with Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) ticket, winning the seat.