President to veto local council elections bill

President Mohamed Nasheed has announced that he will veto the bill on local council elections voted through by parliament earlier this week.

Speaking at a ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) rally last night, President Nasheed said ratifying the bill on decentralisation would be “the intelligent thing to do” but article four of the local council elections bill would deprive many citizens of their right to vote.

Article four requires that voters would have to be present in their island of birth or registered constituency in order to cast their ballots.

The bill was voted through by the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP)-People’s Alliance coalition without any votes from MDP MPs.

The president said a large number of people from the atolls living in Male’ or “40 per cent of the population”, would be deprived of the right to vote if he ratified the bill.

Moreover, he said, young men and women who work outside their islands would not have a say in local government.

He added that the bill was “definitely unconstitutional”.

In the 2008 presidential elections, said Nasheed, MDP received the majority of its backing from islanders living in Male’.

President Nasheed accused opposition MPs of employing “trickery and deceit” during the last session of parliament.

“50,000 people will vote for MDP. This is a cunning plan to deprive them of their vote,” he said.

Shifting blame

The two main political parties have  blamed each other for the controversial article four.

Two amendments proposed by the MDP to allow remote voting were defeated in parliament on Sunday.

”We proposed to amend the bill in a manner everyone can vote for,” said MDP MP Eva Abdulla. “But DRP MPs did not vote for it.”‘

Eva said then MDP then proposed another amendment to allow people of other islands living in Male’ to vote in the council elections “but they refused for that also”.

”There are more than 20 percent of each islands population who are from other islands,” she said.

DRP MP Ahmed Nihan said that DRP MPs did not vote for the amendments because it did not provide the right to vote for everyone equally.

“‘One amendment allowed voting for people living in Male’ who had left their birth place, which is not fair,” Nihan said. “The other reason why we did not vote for the amendments is during the meeting held with political parties and the Elections Commission (EC), DRP objected to article four, but everyone else supported so we also agreed.”

Apart from DRP, said Nihan, MDP and MPs of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party participated in the meeting with the EC.

”The EC said that it would be difficult for them to keep ballot boxes everywhere and said they had financial difficulties too,” he said. “But we said it should be like any other elections, and the EC said that it was different from presidential elections and parliamentary elections and also said that it was the way they do it in other countries as well.”

He said that the ruling party was trying to “mislead people”.

”DRP had confirmed that we will present amendments to that bill and try to keep ballot boxes in other countries where Maldivians live,” he said.

But, MDP MP Mohamed Hamza dismissed Nihan’s claims as “all lies”.

”We presented two amendments, first one to at least allow people from islands living Male’ to vote,” Hamza said, ”the second one to hold the elections as widely as the elections commission could,”

He said that DRP MPs rejected both even though they understood it would deprive people of the right to vote.

DRP MP Ahmed Mahloof said the DRP raised the problem at the meeting with the EC and warned that article four would “become an issue”.

”[But] the EC wanted to make it different from other elections,” he said.

Mahlouf said President Nasheed was unhappy that the bill states all appointed island and atoll councilors should be dismissed.

“We want as many people to take part in the vote,” he said.