The civil court has ordered the elections commission to indefinitely extend the voter registration period for January’s local council elections pending a judgment on the ruling party’s request to delay the polls.
Judge Ali Abdulla issued the temporary order on Sunday after President Abdulla Yameen’s faction of the divided Progressive Party of Maldives filed a case seeking court intervention to postpone the election by two months.
Yameen’s faction cited its inability to prepare after a leadership dispute left the party in disarray, and asked for a temporary order to extend the voter registration deadline.
The deadline to register for voters who wish to vote outside their constituency or overseas was due to expire on Monday. But the re-registration process will now continue until further notice, the elections commission said in a statement.
The civil court scheduled to hear the PPM’s case at 3pm on Monday. When reporters went to observe the proceedings, court officials told reporters that the hearing had already taken place on Sunday.
The presiding judge had decided to hold a preliminary hearing on Sunday after the court schedule for the next day was published, an official explained. The PPM and the elections commission – represented by the attorney general’s office – reportedly exchanged official documents this morning. A date for the next hearing is yet to be set.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has requested the court to let it join the proceedings.
The decentralisation law requires new councils to be elected 30 days before the current three-year term expires on February 26.
But the PPM asked the court to order the elections commission to delay the polls “with reference 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 PPM contends that it would face “irreparable damage” if the polls take place as scheduled on January 14. The party has been unable to prepare for the campaign as its database, membership registry, and other important documents have gone missing, it said.
In October, the civil court controversially stripped former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of his powers as the party’s elected leader and handed over control to the incumbent president, splitting the party into rival factions led by the half-brothers.
Earlier this month, Yameen’s faction cleared out the PPM’s main office after the supreme court upheld the controversial judgment, removing furniture, documents and computers. Several Gayoom loyalists have since been questioned by the police over hard disks and documents alleged to have gone missing.
In the wake of Sunday’s civil court order, Gayoom said in a tweet: “One of the most important principles of democracy is an independent judiciary. Country first!”
Meanwhile in parliament today, several MPs urged opposition parties to boycott the council elections in protest against the judiciary’s interference.
The MDP has also previously questioned the electoral body’s independence and its ability to conduct free and fair polls. Yameen has used the ruling party’s majority in parliament to stack independent institutions with loyalists, the party maintains.
The commission had already pushed back the deadline for submitting candidacy papers to December 1, a two-week extension described by MDP as “a favour to President Yameen” as the PPM is yet to hold primaries or choose candidates.
Online paper VFP reported today that Ahmed Sulaiman, the commission’s president, was spotted leaving the president’s office on Sunday.
Both the president’s office’s spokesman and Sulaiman, who is reportedly on leave, refused to comment on the visit. The commission’s vice president said he was unaware of an official meeting at the president’s office.
Sulaiman was formerly a senior member of the People’s Alliance, a party led by Yameen before he left to seek the PPM’s ticket in 2011.