The People’s Majlis accepted for consideration Tuesday a constitutional amendment proposed by a ruling coalition MP to lengthen the term of local councils from three to five years.
MP Ahmed Amir’s proposal was accepted 55-17 with two abstentions and sent to committee for review. A three-quarters majority or 54 votes from the 85-member house will be needed to amend the constitution.
The next local council elections are due to place in early 2017.
Presenting the amendments to parliament, the Maldives Development Alliance lawmaker said the changes will result in substantial savings as three council elections within two presidential terms are too costly for the state.
Better candidates would come forward if the council’s term is five years, he argued, adding that polls in quick succession give rise to “many social problems”.
Amir also proposed revising the constitutional provision that requires the president and vice president of the council to be elected by a secret ballot of the council’s members.
He submitted amendments to article 231(a) and (b) to state that the election of the council, its president, and vice president must be specified in a law.
The parliament accepted the amendment Monday with 42 votes in favour, 22 against, and two abstentions.
The national security committee meanwhile began reviewing the constitutional amendments yesterday.
Amir had proposed a similar amendment in the past but failed to secure the three-quarters majority needed for approval.
Elected island, atoll, and city councils were introduced in the Maldives for the first time under the landmark Decentralisation Act of 2010.
The first elections were held in February 2011.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has meanwhile accused the ruling coalition of seeking to “destroy” the decentralisation system.
After President Abdulla Yameen assumed power in November 2013, the government gradually stripped the opposition-dominated Malé and Addu city councils of their authority and staff.
The pro-government majority in parliament has also brought several amendments to the decentralisation law.
In July, three by-elections were cancelled after the law was changed to state that elections must not be held if a councillor resigns after one year.
In late June, Yameen ratified a third amendment to the decentralisation law that authorised the president to determine the public services to be provided by the opposition-majority Malé and Addu city councils.
Municipal services the president decided not to assign to the council were transferred to government ministries, leaving the council 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.”
The current model of more than 1,200 elected councillors approved in 2010 by the then-opposition majority parliament had been branded “economic sabotage” by the MDP government, as it was expected to add US$220,000 in wages every month. The MDP had proposed limiting the number of councillors to “no more than 220.”
In November, the decentralisation law was revised for the sixth time to limit the number of councillors to three for islands with a population of less than 3,000.
Some 38 percent of the Maldives’ 338,000-strong population resides in the congested capital city.
The rest are scattered across more than 180 islands. According to the 2014 census, only four islands have a population exceeding 5,000 and only 20 islands have more than 2,000 people.