The Maldives elections body will allow voters with disabilities to choose their own helpers for polling day, its second U-turn and major misstep in four days.
Updated electoral regulations published Sunday say voters who require assistance will be allowed to choose a helper of their choice. The helper can assist the voter with the permission of the chief electoral official at the ballot centre.
The Elections Commission initially said only electoral officials would help voters who were unable to tick the ballot paper on their own.
The original announcement was met with anger from political parties and a threat of legal action by a former attorney general.
“This is a huge concern for us,” former disability ambassador Ahmed Hishan told the Maldives Independent prior to Sunday’s U-turn. “The EC is showing them a person and telling them to trust a complete stranger. Also, these election officials are not even trained to deal with people with disabilities.
“In previous elections there were no complaints over the voting rights of the disabled. That means people were content with how it was. Our authorities and institutions still lack awareness on matters related to special needs,” he said.
Those allowed to get help are the blind, double amputees and elderly people who do not have the physical strength to tick the ballot paper.
EC chief Ahmed Shareef told reporters on Sunday that the change of heart followed concerned feedback from opposition political parties.
The reverse ferret follows the EC walking back its decision to keep ballot boxes for local workers in only seven Maldives resorts following a backlash from political parties, civil society and NGOs. On Saturday, it said there would be more.
Shareef admitted the commission had not sought advice from the electoral advisory committee on the two measures that were later revoked.
“We are not required to seek advice but we have sought advice from the National Advisory Committee on many important decisions. However on these two decisions we did not consult with them and like you said, it is always better to get public opinion on decisions. It is something we will consider in the future,” Shareef told the Maldives Independent.
The presidential election is on September 23.