Three island council by-elections scheduled for Saturday have been cancelled after President Abdulla Yameen ratified changes to the decentralisation law yesterday.
The fifth amendment to the Decentralisation Act states that by-elections must not be held if an island, atoll, or city councillor resigns one year after the local council elections.
However, by-elections must still be held for vacant seats if a council does not have a quorum to hold meetings or if a councillor resigns within the first year.
Local councils are elected for a three-year term. The resignation of councillors have triggered several by-elections since the local government system was introduced in February 2011.
Elections Commission (EC) member Ahmed Akram told Maldives Independent today that the by-elections were cancelled in consultation with Attorney General Mohamed Anil following the ratification of the fifth amendment.
Akram noted that the commission spends between MVR50,000 (US$3,243) and MVR60,000 (US$3,891) on average to hold a by-election.
The three by-elections scheduled for Saturday were called to fill vacant seats on the Haa Alif Dhidhoo, Haa Dhaal Naivadhoo, and Noonu Hebadhoo island councils.
Akram said the EC has saved more than MVR150,000 (US$9,727) due to the cancellations.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) Dhidhoo branch has meanwhile condemned the cancellation of the by-election on the island as an “atrocity” committed by the pro-government majority in parliament to undermine the system of local governance.
As the by-election was called before the amendments were passed into law, the Dhidhoo branch contended in a press statement today that the cancellation was in “violation of judicial and legal principles.”
The Dhidhoo branch also accused the MP for the constituency, Abdul Latheef Mohamed, of seeking the cancellation to avoid a defeat for the ruling party.
The MDP candidate had conducted a door-to-door campaign, visited 800 residences, re-registered 250 constituents, signed the voters list, and appointed monitors and observes ahead of the cancelled polls, the statement added.
Meanwhile, in late June, President Yameen also ratified a third amendment to the decentralisation law that authorised the president to determine the public services to be provided by the opposition-majority Malé and Addu city councils.
The amendments submitted by ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ibrahim Waheed state that municipal services the president decides not to assign to the council will be transferred to government ministries.
During the parliamentary debate last month, MPs of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) heavily criticised the proposed changes, contending that it would “destroy” the decentralisation system and reduce the city council to an “administrative desk at the president’s office.”
Earlier this month, PPM MP Ibrahim Khaleel proposed amending the decentralisation act to not elect local councils in islands with a population lower than 500 people.
Opposition MPs argued that the proposed change amounted to discrimination against small island communities, whilst pro-government MPs suggested that the old system of island and atoll chiefs directly appointed by the president during the 30-year reign of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was much better suited to the Maldives.
Khaleel also proposed extensive changes to the composition of local councils. The amendments state that a four-member council will be elected in islands with a population between 500 and 5,000 people and a six-member council for islands with a population between 5,000 and 10,000.
Apart from the president and vice president of island, atoll, and city councils, Khaleel proposed making other councillors part-time members who would not be involved in day-to-day activities.
The part-time councillors will only attend meetings to finalise decisions.
Atoll councils will meanwhile be comprised of two elected members and a councillor from each island in the atoll. If the revisions are passed, Khaleel said the government would save MVR100 million (US$6.5 million) a year.