18 March 2017, MALE: President Yameen’s regime has, for the third time, delayed local council elections in the Maldives, in an unconstitutional and cowardly attempt to avoid facing the electorate.
On Friday night, following an emergency meeting of the President’s National Advisory Council, political parties were informed of the decision to postpone elections – ostensibly due to the H1N1 outbreak in the Maldives. Elections are now scheduled for 6 May 2017.
This third delay comes amidst further political turmoil for President Yameen and his fractured PPM, while opposition parties have been robustly campaigning across the country.
President Yameen faces, again, another corruption scandal over the secret sale of Faafu atoll to members of the Saudi Royal Family, with no public consultation, and the embarrassing cancellation of the Saudi King’s trip to the Maldives this weekend. Yameen also faces an impending no-confidence motion against the Speaker of Parliament, a regime crony, as well as accusations of incompetence and cover-up over the H1N1 flu outbreak.
The civil war within the ruling PPM has meant that Yameen has been unable to field enough candidates in the local council elections, despite two previous politically-motivated delays to the election which were, in effect, implemented to give Yameen more campaigning time.
This latest delay is another case of President Yameen simply not being ready to face the electorate, and therefore resorting to the abuse of state institutions, including the politicised Elections Commission, to thwart the will of the people.
President Yameen has never won an election legitimately. He has a pattern of abusing his power, and illegally using state resources and institutions to subvert the electoral process, intimidate opponents and eliminate competition. By using state institutions to delay and cancel elections multiple times, the MDP is concerned Yameen is trying to create cynicism among voters and discredit the very idea of elections and democracy in the Maldives.
President Yameen, convinced that he cannot win, is yet again in the process of tampering with the elections process, as it was done during the 2013 Presidential elections.
Free and fair elections cannot be held under these circumstances, and the MDP is fearful that this is a forerunner for all future elections held under the Yameen regime.
The MDP calls upon our international partners to urgently take punitive action against President Yameen, his officials and corrupt members of so-called independent institutions in order to help reverse the Maldives’ continued slide towards authoritarianism and one-man rule.
12 November 2016: The Elections Commission initially announced elections, as per the Local Councils Act, for January 14th.
20 November 2016: President Yameen’s faction of the ruling party, PPM requested the Civil Court of the Maldives for a stay order on the elections. Caught up in a bitter internal dispute, President Yameen’s faction had been unable to field candidates.The Civil Court ordered the Elections Commission to indefinitely extend the voter registration period for the local council elections pending a judgment on the PPM’s request to delay the polls.
The order came just 2 days before the scheduled deadline, and after the MDP and other Opposition- Alliance parties had held their primaries and completed extensive voter registration. In granting the delay, the court cited the ruling party’s unpreparedness and said holding the elections on the scheduled date would harm the party’s performance in the elections, and therefore ordered the Elections Commission to indefinitely postpone registration. Judge Ali Abdulla said it would be a “setback for democracy and damaging to the interests of the state, if the PPM, as the ruling party, were unable to contest the elections.”
01 December 2016: the Civil Court also ruled delaying the elections by two months. The verdict was based on the precedent set by the 2013 Supreme Court verdict in postponing the presidential polls and the principle of “state of necessity” it had invoked to legitimise former President Dr. Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s continuation in office after the end of his term on November 11, 2013.
The Elections Commission said the Civil Court’s 30 November 2016 verdict also paves the way to postpone future elections.
8 January: The EC announced April 8th as the new date. It also set a new deadline for candidacy papers, voiding existing nominations thereby allowing President Yameen’s faction to field candidates.
10 January: Adhalath Party, which was fielding candidates in an alliance with the MDP, announced it would boycott the elections, saying, “participating in the vote would legitimise an election that has been stolen from the people.”
The MDP challenged the Commission’s voiding of some 900 nominations, saying the move violates the Civil Court ruling. The court had only ordered a delay, and re-starting all electoral processes amounts to calling for a new election,
01 February : The EC announced another postponement, setting the date at 15 April, citing inability to find space to hold the ballot booths.
7 February: the Government submitted amendments to the Local Councils Act, which disqualified a number of existing candidates. The amendment came nearly 3 months after MDP candidates initially submitted their candidacies as per the existing legislation, when the Elections Commission first called for elections.
The amendment states that the change will be applicable to the 2017 local council elections, thereby changing candidates’ requirements months into the campaigning. The amendment was approved by the Government controlled Parliament, within a day of it being submitted.
17 March: In a late night emergency press conference, the Elections Commission again announced the elections have been postponed for 6 May, four months past the legally stipulated deadline. This time, the EC cited the swine flu epidemic.
The Elections Commission summoned the National Advisory Council and informed them that the Health Protection Authority had sent a letter saying campaigning might worsen the public health situation. The Human Rights Commission advised the EC to inform all parties to stop campaigning, and the Media Council, the Police and all other state bodies that sit on the Council advised delay.
The MDP, and JP, the two political parties at the Advisory Council, bar the ruling party, protested the decision. The EC announced the delay at a press conference before the Advisory Council had taken a final decision on the matter.