HPA to amend Local Council Elections guidelines addressing EC complaints

Director General of Public Health Maimoona Abu Bakr | Photo: Ministry of Health

Malé, Maldives – The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has decided to amend the guidelines regarding Local Council Elections after taking into consideration, complaints by the elections commission.

The Local Council Elections Special Provision Act 2020 (Act no.: 03/2020) requires relevant authorities to move forward with the election process despite the current health emergency. However, the proceedings should be held per the guidelines set forth by the Director-General of Public Health.

The elections commission has raised concerns against the guidelines gazetted by the HPA, leading to the Parliament to address this issue by calling on both EC and HPA to address their concerns.

Speaking to the parliament, the President of the Elections Commission (EC), Ahmed Shareef, said that the guidelines provided by HPA are not engineered for the elections, but general guidelines by HPA with regards to Covid-19. This leads to limitations in having a fair, independent election and could lead to large financial burdens to the state in the future.

In other countries, restrictive measures were eased just for the elections. Notably in Sri Lanka such measures were eased greatly during their Parliamentary elections [held during the pandemic]

President of EC, Ahmed Shareef

EC raised various issues during the meeting. The main points are as follows. Inequality in providing campaign opportunities to different parties, all of whom are provided with 28 days to campaign. Employees at resorts and safaris being unable to vote due to the pandemic restrictive measures, no specific guidelines assisting Covid-19 positive patients or individuals under quarantine to vote. Limitations to the number of people who can observe voting stations. No quarantine flexibility to the EC trainers who visit islands and no guidelines on whether EC officials can enter islands under monitoring.

While the Director General of Public Health, Maimoona Abu Bakr empathized with the concerns stated by the EC, she defended the HPA guidelines.

The Health DG Maimoona stressed that the guidelines are in place with priority to protect against the Covid-19 pandemic and the country even at present is in a place where more restriction measures must be tightened.

HPA has shortened the quarantine period to 10 days and making the duration any shorter will facilitate the spread of the virus and increase risk. She also stated that moving Covid-19 positive patients from one place to the other is not safe and trainings with no restrictions is against public safety.

The financial burdens are higher. However, our first priority is guiding the elections ensuring public safety.

DG of Public Health, Maimoona Abu Bakr

Maimoona also addressed the issue of holding elections in islands under monitoring and said that they will look into ways to arrange elections in such islands.

The parliamentary Committee on Independent Institutions listened to both parties and decided that the HPA guidelines need to be changed to address the concerns by EC.

The committee has given until Thursday for both HPA and EC to hold meetings and come up with solutions to which both parties are in agreement.