The parliament has passed a bill allowing for the long-delayed local council election to be held while a state of public health emergency is in place. The bill was passed with 38 members voting in its favour at an extraordinary parliament sitting held on Tuesday.
The council elections were originally planned to be held during April 2020. However, the election was postponed after a State of Public Health Emergency was declared in the Maldives due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
A sunset law was passed by the Parliament last year to address the legal issues that arose due to the delay in holding the election. According to the law, the election has to be held within a year of ratifying the law. Therefore, the election has to be held before May 9th this year. However, while the law states that an election cannot be held during the state of a public health emergency, the Elections Commission had said the election could not be held as planned due to the extension of the public health emergency state. A bill was thus submitted at the parliament to allow for the election to be held during the state of a public health emergency.
According to the government sponsored bill presented to the parliament by MP Ali Niyaz, the Elections Commission must begin preparations to hold the election within seven days from the date on which the bill is ratified. It also stated that an election can be held during the state of public health emergency under the directives established by the Director General of Public Health as per the Public Health Act. The guidelines must be compiled and publicized within seven days from the date on which the Elections Commission begins official proceedings to hold the election, it further said.
Some changes were brought to the bill by the Parliament committee on Independent Institutions. The amendments were brought based on the concerns shared by the Elections Commission.
Some of the changes include the responsibility upon the Elections Commission to inform the parliament in the circumstance that an election cannot be held within the time frame mandated under the bill. The details must be shared with the parliament 30 days before the time frame expires.
The bill submitted by MP Ali Niyaz also proposed to shorten the duration granted for other election-related activities. However, the final bill did not include the component after the Elections Commission voiced concern over the clause.
The Elections Commission also requested to add a clause which ensures that the Health Protection Agency establishes guidelines and policies that allow equal opportunities for all candidates competing in the election. The amendment included with regard to the request states that the guidelines established by the Director General of Public Health must allow for a fair election to take place.
The Elections Commission has previously stated that if the law is amended within this month in such a way that an election may be held during a state of public health emergency, the local council election can be held before Ramadan begins on April 13. The tentative date on which the election is scheduled to be held is April 3rd.