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Ruling party eyes presidential poll win with electoral law changes

The ruling party proposals come three months ahead of presidential elections.



The deposit fee for presidential candidates in the Maldives could more than double, one of many electoral changes proposed Monday by the ruling party ahead of this year’s polls.

Lawmakers from the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) proposed the hike at a parliament sitting which lasted six-minutes and was the first session in more than two months. Only ruling party MPs were present as the opposition is boycotting parliament.

Opposition parties were meeting to discuss the proposed changes at the time of going to press.

The changes favour the ruling party, which is attempting to secure a second term in office for President Abdulla Yameen.

The PPM put forward three amendment bills: two regarding the Presidential Elections Act and the other regarding the Elections (General) Act.

MP Ahmed Nihan Hussain Manik proposed tightening up the criteria for presidential candidates. His amendment said that a Maldivian would be barred from contesting a presidential election for 10 years after giving up dual nationality.

Social media chatter suggested this move was aimed at heading off a presidential bid from Professor Hassan Ugail, who has been touted as a possible opposition candidate.

Ugail told Mihaaru he was being targeted “in case.”

“I don’t have any intention of running for the presidency,” he said. “However my name has been floated around. I think this amendment has been targeted at me to close the opportunity just in case.”

The second change raises the deposit fee every candidate has to submit to the Elections Commission from MVR40,000 (US$2,600) to MVR100,000.

A total of 34 amendments were proposed to the general elections act. They cover the compilation of the eligible voters registry, registry complaints and mechanisms to deal with them, as well as the compilation of financial and activity reports submitted to the Elections Commission by candidates.

The lawmakers also proposed raising the amount candidates can spend in a campaign, from MVR1,500 to MVR,2000 per voter.

The bill prohibits the scribbling or drawing on ballot papers other than the check-mark next to the name of a candidate, and proposes to remove an article that says invalid votes should not be counted in the total number of votes.

The total number of votes should be counted with invalid votes, according to one amendment. This change could affect the outcome of an election where protest votes or spoiled ballot papers are used as a tactical measure.

Currently a candidate needs at least 50 percent of all votes cast to win the presidential election.

The PPM wants all broadcasters, including private TV stations and radios, to give equal time to all candidates and proposed banning the sale of more airtime to a particular candidate.

This amendment would affect the revenue of private broadcasters, which can currently sell any amount of airtime to candidates.

The amendments were only introduced to the floor. Preliminary debates will take place at the next sitting.

Maldivians are due to elect a new president late September, but all opposition leaders are currently in prison or in exile and some of them have expressed their desire to contest the poll.

There is concern, among the international community and Maldivians, that the polls will not be free and fair.

This article has been updated to correct inaccuracies in the 13th, 14th and 15th paragraphs regarding invalid votes.