The Maldives will hold local council elections on April 8, the elections commission announced Sunday. It also set a new deadline for candidacy papers, voiding existing nominations in a move that will allow President Abdulla Yameen’s party to field candidates.
The elections were initially scheduled for January 14, but the civil court delayed the vote by two-months citing the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives inability to prepare after a leadership dispute threw it into disarray.
The PPM did not make nominations as an extended deadline for candidacy papers expired on December 1.
The announcement of a new voting date came after weeks of mounting pressure from opposition groups. The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party on Sunday accused the elections commission of “making excuses” to delay the election.
Ali Niyaz, the party’s deputy chairperson, told the press: “The five members of the elections commission remind us of the difficulties of holding an election, and are reluctant to announce a date because they believe that holding an election is difficult. Otherwise, they would have announced the date today.”
The commission must uphold the 900 nominations made so far, Niyaz said, contending that if the commission were to void candidacy papers, it would constitute a call for a new election, and not a delay as ordered by the court.
“Their [commission’s] legal team wants all candidates who have already submitted candidacy papers to re-submit them. We want their nominations to remain valid. We will do everything necessary to protect the rights of the 900 candidates,” he said.
The MDP also criticised a new regulation by the commission that requires all political parties to share information of all candidates who contest in primaries and share results within three days of the vote.
The new rules follow the PPM-dominated parliament amending electoral laws to disbar individuals from contesting in elections independent if they have lost a party primary.
MDP is the only party that has held primaries so far.
Hisaan Hussain, the party’s lawyer, noting that the regulation is silent on parties that do not hold primaries are targeted at interfering with the MDP’s internal affairs.
“The commission must not use the amendment to the law as an excuse to interfere in the internal affairs of political parties. The election commission cannot order political parties to amend their internal regulations,” she said.
The PPM previously supported a new election date for April, saying the party will be able to hold primaries and field candidates by the date.
The Maldives United Opposition, an opposition coalition comprising of the MDP, the Adhaalath Party and former senior government officials, has meanwhile accused Yameen of coercing the courts and independent bodies to delay elections in order to resolve the ruling party’s inability to field candidates.
The MUO also accused the elections commission of misleading the public, after it reversed a plan to challenge the controversial civil court ruling at the high court.
Expressing concern overt the delay, opposition leader and former president, Mohamed Nasheed, has lambasted the international community for what he called a “lack of concerted and meaningful effort… to prevent serious political conflict” following a complete reversal to authoritarianism under Yameen.
“The lack of independent oversight bodies including the elections commission are systematic design of an authoritarian state,” he said in a statement in December.
Maldives, once hailed a success story, was now a “melting pot of rising religious extremism, a precarious economy, soaring youth unemployment, an increasingly insecure electorate combined with a government dogmatically shifting away from traditional international partners, makes the Maldives a volatile crisis that the community of democracies must not ignore,” he said.