The Maldivian Democratic Party says it will field candidates for the upcoming local council elections in partnership with the new opposition coalition, the Maldives United Opposition.
The party’s national council has also approved a resolution to boycott polls in constituencies where the elections commission plans to introduce electronic voting. The MDP, the largest party in the Maldives, and the MUO claim electronic voting may lead to fraud and vote rigging.
The MUO is a coalition of opposition parties and former senior government officials that was established in exile in London in June. It has vowed to remove President Abdulla Yameen from office.
The council elections, scheduled for January, will be the first polls that the MUO contests as a coalition.
MDP council members on Monday said they have no confidence in the reconstituted elections commission, with Hassan Latheef, a shadow minister, saying the commission is “in coalition with Yameen.”
The president of election commission, Ahmed Sulaiman, was a senior member of Yameen’s previous political party, the now-defunct People’s Alliance. The commission was reconstituted after the supreme court removed its president and vice-president on controversial charges of contempt of court.
Mohamed Shihab, the mayor of Malé city, said the MDP wants to work with the MUO in order “to illustrate the party’s capacity to work with individuals and groups of other ideologies.”
The MDP said the number of candidates it will field would be decided by the MUO leadership. Primaries will be held for the designated seats.
The MUO comprises of the MDP, the Adhaalath Party, some members of the Jumhooree Party, and Yameen’s former deputies, Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and Ahmed Adeeb, and his former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim.
Some of these groups had previously allied together, only to clash fiercely later. Such shifting alliances and personal clashes have roiled the Maldives over the past decade. For instance, the Adhaalath, JP and Jameel had helped bring the MDP’s Mohamed Nasheed to power in 2008, but the coalition fell apart within a few months, and the MDP contested the 2009 parliamentary elections alone.
The JP, Adhaalath and Jameel went on to team up with Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives to oust Nasheed in 2012.
The election commission’s abrupt decision to introduce e-voting has meanwhile drawn international concern, with the European Union delegation for the Maldives describing in July the commission’s insistence to do so as “odd” for a country of 350,000 people.
Vote counting in the Maldives is currently overseen by independent and political party observers and results are announced within a few hours of polls closing.
The commission says it plans to pilot electronic voting in three ballot boxes in three different islands during the local council elections. Ahmed Akram, a commission member, reiterates that the commission “is most willing to work together to resolve any issues.”
The number of island and atoll council seats has meanwhile been greatly reduced last year.
Amendments brought to the Decentralisation Act now say a three-member council will be elected in islands with a population below 3,000 and five-member councils will be elected in islands with populations above 3,000 people.
The law had previously set five-member councils for populations under 3,000, seven-members for populations between 3,000 and 10,000, and nine members for populations above 10,000.
Akram says the commission does not know yet how many seats will be contested under the new rules.
More than 2,300 candidates ran for some 1,100 seats in 2014.
The council’s are elected for a three-year term, according to the constitution.
The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives attempted last week to remove the constitutional provision setting the term of the local councils, but failed to receive the 64 votes requited to amend the constitution.
The PPM had wanted to increase the term to five years.
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