Ruling party lawmakers rejected Tuesday changes proposed by the government to the election law to invalidate ballot papers with markings or symbols.
Some 43 MPs from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance voted against the government-sponsored amendments to the 2008 Elections Act, a day after voting to accept the bill for consideration and sending it to a committee for review.
Ballot papers will be counted as invalid if there is any marking, writing or drawing apart from the tick next to the candidate’s name, states the amendment submitted on behalf of the government by PPM MP Ibrahim Didi.
Speaking hours before the vote, Didi said the change is necessary to ensure secrecy of the ballot as mandated by the constitution.
“When the person who votes under the influence of someone else has the opportunity to make various signs or marks on the ballot paper to show how he voted, how can we consider that a secret ballot?” he asked.
The government proposed the change for “a noble purpose” on the request of the elections commission, he added.
However, Didi abstained from the vote.
During today’s debate, MPs of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and Jumhooreee Party said the change was necessary and long overdue. Some 24 opposition MPs voted in favour of the bill.
MDP MP Mohamed Nazim said he was sceptical that pro-government lawmakers would want to pass the bill.
“During the last presidential election, government employees as well as staff of government companies were forced to vote with marks,” alleged MDP MP Abdul Ghafoor Moosa.
“The MDP fully supports this amendment. However, there will be an evil and deceitful scheme of the government behind this. I think this amendment was submitted by mistake. I can’t say that this government will vote for this amendment.”
The MDP had accused pro-government candidates of bribery and vote buying in the March 2014 parliamentary elections. Some voters were asked to tag their ballot papers with a special mark or symbol for PPM observers and candidate representatives to identify their votes, the party alleged.
The party also challenged the results of three constituencies where the margin between MDP and PPM candidates was smaller than the number of tagged ballot papers identified by observers.
However, the high court ruled that there were no grounds to annul the results and order a re-vote as the evidence submitted was not sufficient to prove electoral fraud.
Based on its observation of the polls, Transparency Maldives had warned that while it was well-administered and transparent, “wider issues of money politics threatens to hijack the democratic process”.
A separate bill submitted by Didi to revise the local council elections law was meanwhile passed at today’s sitting. MPs voted 47-19 with two abstentions to pass the bill.
The government-sponsored amendments state that the ballot paper will be invalidated if a voter ticks next to more candidates than the number of councillors to be elected.
However, ballots will be counted as valid if a voter picks fewer candidates that the number of councillors to be elected.
The supreme court had previously ruled that invalidating such ballots was unconstitutional.
A three-member island council will be elected in the majority of islands in next year’s local council elections. Islands with a population that exceeds 3,000 will have a five-member council.
In the capital Malé and the southern cities of Addu and Fuvahmulah, one councillor will be elected to the city councils from each parliamentary constituency.