Some 422 ballot boxes have been placed in polling stations set up in schools and government buildings in the capital Malé and more than 180 inhabited islands.
Voting is also taking place in seven resorts, two prisons, two police custodial centres and the industrial island of Thilafushi. The only overseas polling station is in Sri Lanka with two ballot boxes at the Maldives embassy in Colombo.
The polls opened at 8 am but voting began late at more than 28 polling stations. In most cases, the delay was caused by the late arrival of officials, the elections commission said.
Local NGO Maldivian Democracy Network reported delays on the islands of Himandhoo in Alif Alif atoll and Kelaa in Haa Alif atoll as well as the Galolhu North polling station in Malé due to missing ballot papers. A ballot box was also missing in three other polling stations, the NGO said.
Voting got underway in all polling stations by 11 am. The polls will close at 4 pm and vote counting will begin 30 minutes later. The elections commission said stations that experienced delays will stay open for longer.
Some 1,496 candidates are contesting for 653 island, atoll and city council seats. In early March, the elections commission declared 13 candidates winners by default in the absence of other contenders.
The 1,496 candidates include 521 from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives, 49 from coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance, and one from the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party as well as 469 candidates from the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, 93 from the opposition Jumhooree Party and 363 independent candidates.
Some 255,987 Maldivians are eligible to vote and 45,745 people registered to vote outside their native island or constituency. More than 16,000 young men and women who turned 18 are also eligible to vote for the first time.
According to the elections commission, 898 observers, including six international observers, and 634 media monitors were accredited for the polls.
Some 1,147 representatives of candidates are also authorised to observe the voting process from inside polling stations.
Speaking to reporters after voting at a Machangoalhi North polling station around 10:15 am, President Abdulla Yameen said minor problems could occur during the day but suggested that serious issues that could mar the voting process were unlikely.
The elections commission told local media that it was attending to complaints about voting. The problems reported so far included wrong ballot papers sent to a polling station at Malé’s sports complex. But the problem was quickly rectified, commission member Ahmed Akram said.
The commission is also looking into reports of fake ballot papers and result sheets circulating on social media as well as allegations by a woman about someone else voting in her name.
The commission also dismissed rumours of voters able to easily wash away the indelible ink applied on one finger before voting.
The police are meanwhile conducting an operation dubbed Dhihi across the country to maintain security for the polls. Police officers are stationed outside each polling station and teams were dispatched from Malé last week.
Around 12:30 pm, the police said officers stopped campaigning by a group outside the Hiriya School in Malé, which was prohibited after Friday’s 6 pm deadline.
As of press time, voting is proceeding smoothly without incident, the police said.
The local council election is taking place despite the refusal of opposition candidates to endorse the voter list due to concerns over accuracy.
A controversial guideline imposed by the supreme court during the 2013 presidential election requires all political parties and independent candidates to verify and approve the voter registry. But the elections commission insisted that the refusal of MDP and JP candidates was not a legal obstacle to conducting the polls.
The MDP also raised concerns over alleged plans for vote rigging. However, exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed, the opposition leader, has expressed confidence of winning despite vote rigging.
Amidst confusion and delay, voting begins in local council elections. Experts say Gov can rig 20% of vote. But MDP will still win.
— Mohamed Nasheed (@MohamedNasheed) May 6, 2017
30% voted by noon. Final turn out estimated to be at 70%. A higher turnout than this is likely to be stuffed ballots.
— Mohamed Nasheed (@MohamedNasheed) May 6, 2017
The opposition also insists that the independent electoral body is stacked with Yameen’s loyalists. The five-member commission’s president Ahmed Sulaiman was formerly a senior member of the People’s Alliance, a party led by Yameen before he left to seek the PPM’s ticket in 2011.
The 2017 local council election was first scheduled to take place on January 14 but was postponed after the PPM petitioned the civil court for a two-month delay citing the loss of its database and membership registry.
After rescheduling the polls for April 8 in the wake of the court ruling, the commission postponed the polls again to April 15, claiming that public schools were unavailable to set up polling stations at an earlier date.
The elections were delayed for the third time to May 6 with the commission claiming that the situation in the Maldives was not conducive for campaigning due to a flu outbreak.
But a week after the commission’s announcement, the education ministry announced that public schools will reopen as the seasonal outbreak of the flu and viral fever was under control.
The three-year term of local councils expired on February 26 and the decentralisation law required new councillors to be elected 30 days before that.
But the civil court said councillors will remain in their posts until successors are elected, referring to “a state of necessity,” a principle previously invoked by the supreme court to legitimise former President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s continuation in office after the end of the presidential term on November 11, 2013.