The civil court has rejected a petition asking it to overturn an election commission order that requires the main opposition party to re-register nearly half of its 46,608 members.
The court ruled against the Maldivian Democratic Party on Tuesday, claiming the commission’s July 2014 decision asking political parties to re-register all members whose fingerprints are not on file cannot be annulled as it has since been passed into law.
The ruling is likely to take some 23,058 off the MDP’s registry, and may halve the annual grant it receives from the state budget.
The MDP was the first political party to register in 2005 and is now the biggest party in the Maldives.
Other parties affected by the law include the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party, the Jumhooree Party and the Adhaalath Party. The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives, which emerged as a breakaway faction of the DRP in 2011, will not be affected.
A fingerprinted form for political party membership was first introduced by a regulation in 2010, and by law in 2013. Then in July 2014, the elections commission gave all parties a six-month deadline to re-register all members whose fingerprints were not on file.
The MDP and the DRP challenged the order at the civil court, arguing that the requirement cannot be applied retroactively, a view the attorney general has supported.
Nine months after the court battle began, a PPM MP proposed an amendment to the Political Parties Act, requiring all members submit fingerprinted membership forms within 30 days or be taken off the party registries.
It was passed with 40 votes in August.
Although the PPM claims the law is necessary to prevent fraud, MDP MPs said it was aimed at reducing the party’s membership, and cutting off its state funding, as the number of members in a party determines the size of the annual grant it receives from the state budget.
None of the six registered parties have received state funds this year, despite a legal requirement obliging the election commission to distribute the funds during the first three months of the year.
The commission has blamed the court battle for the delay.
Ahmed Akram, an election commission member, said this year’s grant would be based on the number of members whose fingerprints are on file.
The new deadline for re-registration is set to expire on October 11.
“The Political Parties Act clearly states how funds will be given to parties. It will be done according to the law. We will announce very soon, which parties will receive the funds from the budget and how much each party will receive.” Akram said.
But Anas Abdul Sattar, the MDP secretary general, branded the decision unlawful.
“The money for this year is allocated in the budget passed last year, before the re-registration of former members was mandated by law.”
The MDP is also suing the commission over the delay in disbursing funds.
It received MVR7 million (US$459,244) from the state budget last year.
Anas said the party will appeal the civil court’s ruling on fingerprinted forms as soon as it receives a copy of the verdict. The ruling has not been posted online yet.
The PPM has also written to the commission seeking an explanation for the delay. Abdul Aleem, the PPM’s deputy secretary-general, suggested that the attempt to deny the funds for the MDP was responsible for the delay in handing it over to other parties.
The PPM is presently in the midst of a power struggle between its leader, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and his half-brother, the incumbent president.