Majlis approves bill to let candidates with criminal records run for councils

Majlis approves bill to let candidates with criminal records run for councils
February 08 17:02 2017

The People’s Majlis approved Wednesday contentious legal changes to pave the way for individuals with criminal records to contest in April’s local council elections.

MPs voted 46-19 to amend the 2010 local council elections law to allow individuals convicted of graft, bribery, drug abuse, and offences with punishments prescribed in Islamic shariah to contest three years after being pardoned or completing their jail sentence.

The law previously barred individuals convicted of these crimes from contesting even if they had been pardoned or released.

The amendment bill proposed by MP Ali Mohamed of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives was passed into law a day after it was introduced to the parliament, debated, and sent to the national security committee for review.

The committee did revise the bill to continue to bar those convicted of child sexual abuse and rape from becoming candidates. This was because of concerns expressed by both ruling and opposition party lawmakers during Tuesday’s debate.

Mohamed had initially proposed allowing individuals convicted of the offences specified in the law to contest two years after their release or pardon, but the committee reinstated the prohibition for child abuse and rape convicts and extended the period to three years for the other specified offences.

Individuals convicted of drug trafficking would be allowed to contest seven years after their release or pardon.

A provision that allows individuals convicted of other offences and jailed for more than a year to contest three years after their release or pardon was kept unchanged.

The bill was voted through with the committee’s revisions.

Following today’s vote, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s parliamentary group released a statement condemning the changes brought to the law with the election looming as “contrary to every principle of democracy and justice”.

“And it is likely that these changes could be used as an excuse to further delay the election,” the minority party warned, adding that it could set a precedent for changing the eligibility criteria at the last minute for future elections.

The third local council election was previously scheduled to take place on January 14, but was postponed after the PPM petitioned the civil court for a two-month delay citing its inability to prepare in the wake of a bitter leadership dispute.

Earlier this month, the elections commission – which the opposition contends is stacked with loyalists of President Abdulla Yameen – postponed the polls again to April 15, claiming that public schools were unavailable to set up polling stations at an earlier date.

The PPM had planned to hold a rally last Saturday to launch its campaign and introduce the party’s candidates. But the event was delayed on short notice with PPM Secretary-General Dr Abdulla Khaleel citing the election’s commission’s decision to push back the deadline to submit candidacy papers from February 6 to February 20.

During Tuesday’s debate, opposition lawmakers contended that the bill was proposed because the PPM is struggling to find candidates to contest on its ticket.

The changes are aimed at securing the candidacies of ruling party members who were unable to run due to criminal records, they said.

The PPM was split into rival factions led by Yameen and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom last year after the civil court stripped the latter of his powers as the party’s elected leader.

After the parliament pushed ahead with the amendments Tuesday, Gayoom took to social media to criticise the proposed changes.

Gayoom’s son Faris Maumoon and deputy Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim joined MDP and Jumhooree Party MPs to vote against the bill today.