People who have sought asylum overseas should be barred from running for president, a ruling party lawmaker told the Maldives parliament Tuesday.
The country is due to go the polls in late September but opposition leaders are either in exile or behind bars, including former president Mohamed Nasheed who has sought asylum in the UK and Jumhooree Party chief Gasim Ibrahim who has sought asylum in Germany.
Both men have expressed a desire to contest the elections and both are already barred from running. Nasheed has a 13-year prison sentence on controversial terror charges while Gasim has a three-year term for bribery.
Parliament heard MP Nihan Hassan Manik criticise those who had sought asylum overseas and were seeking the highest office in the country.
“We have to check whether this person has best interests of the Maldives in his ideology and how much they know the Maldives,” he said. “Some people who have spent their lives abroad are coming to the Maldives in the greed for power.”
It was one of many electoral law changes proposed by the ruling party, months before the poll is due to take place.
Although all opposition lawmakers boycotted Monday’s parliament sitting, when the amendments were proposed, some took part in a committee debate.
MPs Imthiyaz Fahmy and Rozaina Adam voted against approving an amendment to disqualify dual citizenship holders and asylum status holders from running as president for 10 years.
But the Independent Commissions Committee approved the change. Other amendments were debated but no decisions was reached.
Fahmy said amendments were being fast-tracked through parliament.
“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,” he 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.
“It has to be done ahead of time in a transparent manner. Then, when you look at some of these amendments it is clear that it is targeted against individuals who might stage a challenge against President (Abdulla) Yameen.”
The amendment barring dual citizenship holders and asylum status holders for 10 years will be sent back to the parliament floor for a final vote.
– ‘Undermining democracy’ –
Transparency Maldives’ Aiman Rasheed also raised concerns about the timing of the legal changes.
“While the bills are generally positive, the draft bills also include provisions on limiting candidacy eligibility and provides discretion for the Maldives Broadcasting Commission and the Elections Commission to initiate criminal proceedings via the Prosecutor General’s Office, against TV stations,” he said.
“Additionally the amendments to the electoral legal framework, with fewer than three months to election day, raises several questions regarding the electoral processes.
“The presentation of bills close to the election also lends credence to the argument that some of the amendments are targeted towards eliminating competition and skewing the playing field in favour of the incumbent,” he said.
“As an Indian Ocean neighbour, Australia urges the Maldives government to respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Maldivians, including freedom of assembly and speech and the right to participate fully in election processes,” it said.
“Australia calls in particular on the Maldives government to release political prisoners and permit legitimate opposition activity, which is essential for any election to be credible.”