The number of island, atoll and city councillors will increase to 980 in April’s council elections, of which 327 seats will be reserved for female candidates, the Elections Commission announced on Wednesday night.
The country’s first-ever gender quota was part of landmark changes brought to the decentralisation law as pledged by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, which would also devolve powers for councils to provide utility services, maintain roads, repair harbours, carry out infrastructure projects under MVR5 million (US$324,250) and collect earnings from land rentals in their jurisdiction.
But the president has yet to ratify the amendments passed by parliament last Thursday.
On Sunday, Solih ratified a constitutional amendment that increased the term of local councils from three to five years. Parliament also revised article 231 for voters to directly elect mayors of cities and presidents of island and atoll councils. Mayors and presidents were previously chosen from among council members.
It was the fifth amendment brought to the constitution. Two amendments made during the previous administration to authorise foreign freeholds and impose an age limit for the presidency were repealed in the wake of the incumbent’s election defeat.
Elected councils were introduced for the first time after the decentralisation law was passed as mandated by the 2008 constitution. The first municipal elections were held in February 2011. Ahead of the third elections in 2017, parliament revised the law to reduce the number of councillors to 653 from more than 1,000.
Voter turnout was 66 percent when the polls took place in May 2017 and the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party took more than 300 seats, winning 21 out of 23 seats from the Malé, Addu and Fuvahmulah city councils and securing majorities on most atoll councils. The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives won 191 seats and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance won 18 island council seats.
In the 2020 elections, 929 members will also be elected to women’s development committees.