Commission lacks authority to hold local council election: EC president

EC President Ahmed Shareef | Photo: Mihaaru

Male’, Maldives – Elections Commission (EC) President Ahmed Shareef on Monday, attributed delays in holding the local council election to the authorities granted to other bodies under the “Special Bill for the Local Council Elections 2020”.

Speaking during a programme on Dhivehi Channel, Chairman Shareef highlighted provisions in the act which stipulate that the Elections Commission can only host the local council and WDC elections once the presently-declared state of public health emergency is over and only after the Health Protection Agency (HPA) determines that there is no longer a public health risk to hold the elections.

The sunset bill, passed by the parliament on April 30, 2020, requires EC to hold local council and Women Development Committee (WDC) elections before May 9, 2021. Although EC tentatively slated the elections for March 2021 in July, HPA has yet to officially greenlight the polls.

Despite the deadline for HPA’s approval being set for December 15, Shareef previously stated that the election could be held without complications if HPA grants the permit any time before January 5. If the agency’s approval passes that date, Shareef warned that the local council election might have to be postponed again, in which case, voting might take place during the month of Ramadan.

According to Shareef, the election could be held if the terms of the special bill granted EC the mandate of setting a date for the polls after seeking counsel from HPA. He noted that EC had completed all administrative preparations required to hold the local council elections, with the only pending preparations involving public efforts, such as recruiting volunteer observers and re-registering voters. Hence,, Shareef stated that the terms of the aforementioned act represented the only obstacle to scheduling polls.

He also highlighted that the United States and neighboring Sri Lanka had both conducted elections amid unfavourable public health circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Shareef went on to assure that efforts were already underway to draft an amendment to address the issues surrounding the local council elections.However, he noted that the amendment could only be submitted to the parliament following the conclusion of the ongoing recess period.

The elections, initially scheduled for April 4, 2020, has been postponed by nearly a year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Over 4,172 candidates, including independent candidates and those representing political parties, are contesting in the upcoming local council elections. Till date, 71 candidates have withdrawn their candidacies.

In response to the indefinite delay, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ratified an amendment to Article 231 of the Constitution, extending the terms of incumbent councilors. He also ratified the legislation to delineate the powers of council members who remain in office during the interim period, thus allowing the continued functioning of a decentralised government until such a time the local elections can be held.