Some 664 newly-elected island, atoll and city councillors were sworn into office across the country on Saturday.
Judges and magistrates administered oaths of office to 575 island councillors, 66 atoll councillors and 23 city councillors. The new councils also elected presidents and vice presidents at inaugural meetings after the swearing-in ceremonies.
Shifa Mohamed, a former education minister and two-term councillors, was elected as the first female mayor of Malé City and Shamau Shareef was elected deputy mayor.
Supreme Court Justice Adam Mohamed Abdulla administered the oath of office to the capital’s councillors at a ceremony at the Ghiyasudheen School in Malé.
In the southernmost atolls, Abdulla Sodiq was chosen for a third term as Addu City mayor. Abdulla Falah became the first mayor of Fuvahmulah City and Mohamed Lirar was elected as his deputy.
A three-member city council was elected in Fuvahmulah after the southern island was accorded city status in September and became the Maldives’ third city.
All three mayors and deputies are from the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, which swept the three city councils in the May 6 municipal elections. The MDP won 12 out of 13 seats on the Malé city council, all seven seats on the Addu City council and two out of three seats on the Fuvahmulah city council.
The MDP took more than 300 seats in the country’s third local council elections while the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives won 191 seats.
The PPM’s coalition partners Maldives Development Alliance won 18 seats and the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party won the Henveiru North seat in the Malé city council after the MDP candidate endorsed his opponent a week before the election.
Independent candidates also won more than 100 seats.
According to the Elections Commission, the turnout during the local council election was 66 percent of 255,987 eligible voters.
In the capital, the turnout was 42 percent, but voters came out in much higher numbers in the rest of the country.
The turnout in the January 2014 council elections was 64.5 percent, down from 70 percent in the first local council elections in February 2011.
The municipal 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.
The decentralisation law required new councillors to be elected 30 days before the three-year term of local councils expired on February 26.
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.
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.
Fuvahmulah became a city after Yameen declared that it meets the revised criteria for a city in the decentralisation law, which was amended in 2015 to lower the minimum population threshold from 25,000 to 10,000.
As Fuvahmulah is uniquely both an island and its own atoll, it presently has an atoll council and island councils for each of its eight administrative wards, with a total of 30 elected councillors.
The opposition-dominated city councils were gradually stripped of their authority and staff after Yameen assumed office in November 2013.
In early 2015, the housing ministry evicted the Malé city council from the city hall building and took over management of the capital’s public spaces, parks, harbours, cemeteries, and roads. A third of the council’s employees were transferred to the housing ministry.
The ruling party-dominated parliament then amended the decentralisation act to authorise the president to determine the public services to be provided by city councils, after which Yameen transferred the remaining municipal services to government ministries.
The Malé and Addu city councils were left with providing registration services and issuing birth and death certificates. The MDP said at the time the changes were aimed at reducing the city councils to an “administrative desk at the president’s office.”
In March this year, Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan caused a stir during the local council election campaign when he declared that parliament will restore the city council’s powers and responsibilities if ruling Progressive Party of Maldives candidates are elected.
He also pledged to reverse a 50 percent pay cut for Malé and Addu city councillors approved by the parliament in October 2015.