The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party conducted primaries across the country on Friday to select candidates for the local council elections due to take place on January 14.
MDP Deputy Chairperson Ali Niyaz said voting took place from 2:30pm to 9pm on 51 islands, including Malé, where ballot boxes for other constituencies were also placed for members residing in the capital.
Niyaz said voting proceeded smoothly but the party faced difficulties in Malé due to the lack of space. Polling stations were set up at the party’s office and meeting hall in the capital.
“People from all over the country had to go there as 51 ballot boxes for the 51 islands were kept there. We were unable to get another place,” he said.
According to provisional results announced at the polling stations, two-term Addu City Mayor Abdulla Sodiq and Malé City Deputy Mayor Shifa Mohamed were among the winners.
MDP Secretary General Anas Abdul Sattar said the official results will be announced shortly, after which the party will launch its campaign. Several members previously secured tickets by default without a contest as they were the only candidate.
The MDP is the only party to have conducted primaries so far. The elections commission today extended the deadline for accepting candidacy papers from November 15 to December 1.
The party will be campaigning in partnership with the Maldives United Opposition, an MDP-led coalition comprised of the Adhaalath Party and former top officials of the current administration.
The MDP will field candidates for 76 percent of the 653 atoll, island, and city council seats in contention with the rest ceded to its coalition partner Adhaalath Party. The allocation was based on seats already held by the party’s councillors.
The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives is meanwhile embroiled in internal strife with rival factions led by its deposed leader, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and his half-brother, President Abdulla Yameen, planning to field candidates.
Last month, the civil court stripped Gayoom of his powers as the party’s elected leader and handed control to Yameen, splitting the PPM into fully-fledged factions with the half-brothers presiding over rival governing councils.
After the supreme court upheld the controversial judgment, Yameen’s faction last week cleared out the PPM’s main office, removing furniture, documents and computers to new headquarters at the Dharubaaruge convention centre.
The elections commission recognises the Yameen faction as the legitimate PPM.
Abdul Aleem, the Gayoom faction’s secretary general, told local media that some 257 application forms from members seeking the PPM ticket were among the documents cleared out from the office.
Several PPM members have since contacted the former president’s office and expressed interest in contesting as independent candidates endorsed by Gayoom, he said, asking for letters declaring support for their candidacy.
Others have said they remain loyal to Gayoom but would seek the PPM ticket from the Yameen’s faction as they believe it is necessary to win, Aleem said.
Several members have asked for letters from Gayoom declaring support for their candidacy, Aleem said, adding that the party’s council will decide how to proceed.
Gayoom, who has withdrawn support for the government, is also planning to travel across the Maldives to meet with supporters ahead of the polls.
The Yameen faction has meanwhile yet to decide on a date to hold primaries.
Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan, a council member of the minority opposition Jumhooree Party, told the Maldives Independent that the party will hold primaries before November 15.
The JP’s leader and business tycoon, Gasim Ibrahim, threw his support behind Gayoom last week.
The 653 city, atoll, and island councillors to be elected in January for three-year terms is significantly fewer than the present count of 1,095 councillors.
According to the elections commission, 563 councillors will be elected to 179 island councils, 67 councillors to 18 atoll councils, and 23 councillors to three city councils.
Elected island, atoll, and city councils were introduced in the Maldives for the first time under the decentralisation law as mandated by the 2008 constitution. The first elections were held in February 2011.
In the previous local council elections held in January 2014, the MDP won 457 seats (41.5 percent) and the PPM won 281 seats (25.5 percent).
The PPM’s coalition partners at the time, the JP and the Maldives Development Alliance, took 125 seats (11.4 percent) and 59 seats (5.4 percent) respectively.
The Adhaalath Party secured 45 seats (4.1 percent) – including a majority in three councils – while the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party won one seat (0.1 percent) and independent candidates won 132 seats (12 percent).
Voter turnout was 63 percent, well below the 90 percent turnout in the presidential election of November 2013.