The elections commission has postponed the local council elections for the third time, claiming that the situation in the Maldives is not conducive for campaigning due to an ongoing flu outbreak.
The polls have been delayed from April 15 to May 6.
Amjad Mustafa, the electoral body’s vice president, told the press on Friday night that the Health Protection Agency advised the commission that public gatherings would cause the flu to spread.
“Elections have been delayed before due to national disasters, natural disasters. That is, due to the 2004 tsunami disaster, the parliamentary election that was due to take place then was delayed, too,” Amjad said at the impromptu press conference.
Ahmed Akram, a commission member, said some parties have complained that candidates are being told during door-to-door visits that it is difficult to welcome guests because of the flu outbreak.
Schools and state universities were closed last Tuesday on the advice of the health authorities after surveillance testing revealed that the H1N1 type of influenza virus was spreading rapidly.
However, according to statistics made public by the HPA today, the number of flu consultations nationwide has fallen from 2,334 on Tuesday to 1,549 on Friday. Health Minister Abdulla Nazim also expressed confidence last week that the flu outbreak would be brought under control within one or two weeks.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party contends that the election was delayed on the orders of the government, a charge that the commission denies.
“President [Abdulla] Yameen is convinced he can’t win a fair election and has delayed #LCE2017 for the 3rd time. A case of lies upon lies. Unacceptable,” tweeted former President Mohamed Nasheed, the opposition leader.
EC Vice President Amjad told the press that the decision was made following consultations at an emergency meeting of the National Advisory Committee, a body that includes representatives from political parties, the human rights watchdog, media regulatory bodies, the police, and the department of national registration.
Apart from two members, Amjad said the rest favoured delaying the election.
But Anas Abdul Sattar, the MDP’s representative, told the press that the commission called a press conference and announced the postponement while the committee meeting was ongoing.
Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan, the Jumhooree Party’s representative, said the HPA’s letter to the commission advised against large public gatherings but did not state that the situation in the Maldives warrants delaying the election.
According to the HPA, the present national health alert level of three signifies “moderate” when Malé and multiple atolls report infected cases. The responses include forming a health task force and improving surveillance and testing.
Level two represents “serious” risk and prompts the formation of a health emergency coordination committee.
The highest level is one and must be declared by the president “when the country as a whole cannot manage the overwhelming number of infected cases and the situation reaches a catastrophic magnitude requiring international assistance.”
Citing a member of the health task force formed in response to the outbreak, local media reported that most people who come to makeshift flu clinics set up by the two tertiary hospitals in Malé do not exhibit symptoms of the H1N1 virus.
The HPA previously explained that since the 2009 pandemic when it was a new strain, the H1N1 swine flu virus is now “similar to any other influenza and not any more severe or dangerous.” But children under five years of age, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with chronic conditions such as lung or heart diseases are at risk of developing life-threatening complications like pneumonia.
Two people who tested positive for H1N1 have died.
Of 350 suspected cases tested as of Friday, 114 have tested positive and six patients have been hospitalised, according to the HPA.
EC member Akram meanwhile said that the list of voters will be amended to include more eligible voters who turn 18 and the commission will also reopen voter registration for those who want to vote outside their native island or constituency.
But new candidates cannot apply to contest as ballot numbers have been assigned, he added.
The election was first scheduled to take place on January 14, but was postponed after the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives petitioned the civil court for a two-month delay citing the loss of its database and membership registry.
After rescheduling the polls for April 8 in the wake of the court ruling, the commission postponed the polls again to April 15, claiming that public schools were unavailable to set up polling stations at an earlier date.
The three-year term of local councils expired on February 26 and the decentralisation law required new councillors to be elected 30 days before that.
But the civil court said councillors will remain in their posts until successors are elected, referring to “a state of necessity,” a principle previously invoked by the supreme court to legitimise former President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s continuation in office after the end of the presidential term on November 11, 2013.