Maldivians who have sought asylum overseas or relinquished dual citizenship have been barred from running for president for 10 years.
The restriction was imposed in amendments to electoral laws passed at Wednesday’s sitting of parliament.
It targets former president Mohamed Nasheed and Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim, who have secured asylum in the UK and Germany. Neither will be eligible until 10 years after relinquishing asylum.
With the exiled leaders also unable to contest in September’s election due to criminal convictions, the opposition coalition has agreed to field Maldivian Democratic Party MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih with a JP running mate.
The legal changes also rules out the potential candidacy of Hassan Ugail. A professor of visual computing at the University of Bradford, Ugail has renounced his British citizenship after 15 years.
Other changes include raising the deposit fee for presidential candidates to MVR100,000 (US$6,500) and more than 30 revisions to the General Elections Act.
– ‘State of necessity’ –
The three amendment bills were voted through without the constitutional quorum needed to pass legislation.
More than half of the 85-member parliament must be present for voting on “any matter requiring compliance by citizens” but only 34 ruling party lawmakers were in attendance.
They voted unanimously to pass the bills.
Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed had previously refused to the call the vote during both Monday and Tuesday’s sittings over the quorum issue.
But MPs approved his proposal at Wednesday’s sitting to put the bills to a vote on the grounds that the Supreme Court ruled that laws could be passed in a “state of necessity” when lawmakers deliberately refuse to attend.
Opposition lawmakers refused to participate despite repeated pleas and reminders that the three bills were urgently needed and “very much intertwined with the fundamental interests of the state,” Maseeh’s motion stated.
The joint opposition parliamentary group has been boycotting votes since July last year.
They dispute Maseeh’s legitimacy and demand the reinstatement of 12 former ruling party lawmakers who were stripped of their seats.
Their contentious disqualification was used to wipe out a new opposition majority and protect the speaker from impeachment.
The no-confidence motion against Maseeh was backed by 45 out of 85 MPs.
– ‘Unconstitutional’ –
“First of all the qualifications for running for presidency are outlined in the constitution, we do not believe that anything can be added to that list through a law,” MP Imthiyaz Fahmy, the MDP’s spokesman, previously told the Maldives Independent.
“The constitution is very clear on the qualifications. Secondly these changes being proposed so close to the election, it is three months away. That is unacceptable.”
While welcoming most of the amendments to the General Elections Act, anti-corruption NGO Transparency Maldives expressed concern with the “discretion for the Maldives Broadcasting Commission and the Elections Commission to initiate criminal proceedings against TV stations”.
Once ratified, all broadcasters, including private TV stations and radios, must give equal time to all candidates and cannot sell more airtime to a particular candidate.
Other revisions include raising the amount candidates can spend in a campaign from MVR1,500 to MVR,2000 per voter.
The total number of votes must be counted with invalid votes, according to one amendment. This could affect the outcome of an election where protest votes or spoiled ballot papers are used as a tactical measure.
A key provision to invalidate ballots that have marks or drawings other than the check mark next to the candidate’s name was removed during the committee review stage.
A similar amendment to invalidate ballot papers with markings or symbols was also rejected by ruling party lawmakers in November 2016.