The People’s Majlis will debate on the amendment bill to the Local Council Elections Special Provisions act next week, during a second extraordinary sitting.
While the parliament is yet to commence for the year, with work scheduled to start on February 4, an extraordinary sitting was held on Wednesday night.
Deputy Speaker and North-Galolhu constitueny MP Eva Abdulla presided over the sitting, and announced that its purpose was to bring the necessary legislative changes to ensure that Local Council and Women’s Development Committee (WDC) Elections are not delayed any further.
The Local Council Elections and Women’s Development Committee (WDC) elections were scheduled for April 2020, but were postponed following the Covid-19 pandemic through a constitutional amendment which also ensures there is no legal vacuum as the existing councilors’ terms were to expire in June 2020. This amendment also states that the elections must be held within one year of ratification; the special bill was ratified by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on May 10.
While the debate on the bill has been scheduled for January 17, the deputy speaker announced that sitting will go on until all MPs that request to partake in the debate are given the opportunity.
As per Article 89 (a) of the parliamentary regulations, lawmakers must be given a period of seven days to prepare for debate on a proposed bill after the first reading, and that this can be reduced to three days if agreed by both the majority and minority leaders.
Following debate, the bill will be forwarded to a committee who will review it and prepare a report. Lawmakers will be given an additional three days to study this report before the next sitting.
Eva concluded the sitting after making these announcements. Opposition lawmakers continued to call for the release of their leader, former President Abdulla Yameen, during the some five minutes the sitting was in session.
The government-endorsed bill, submitted by Hulhumale’ constituency MP Ali Niyaz, addresses the current issues highlighted by the Elections Commission in holding the council elections within the required period.
The current issue with holding the elections within the given time is the state of public health emergency declared across the nation, which was recently extended until February 4. Elections Commission notes that this does not allow them sufficient time to prepare, even if the state of public health emergency is lifted after this extension.
Hence, the new bill shortens the window for the Elections Commission to publicize the official voter registry for the Local Council and Women’s Development Committee (WDC) Elections, from 45 to 30 days, as well as the window for the public to submit complaints following the publication of the official registry, from 10 days to five. Further, the time period for the commission to respond to the complaints was shortened.
While individuals can file cases at the High Court if discontent with the commission’s response, the court will be required to reach a verdict in seven days if the amendment bill is approved, instead of the 15 days stated as per current laws.
It also states that the Elections Commission must begin preparations for the elections within seven days after ratification, as well as that the commission must follow the director general of public health’s instructions in doing so to ensure public health safety.
While the Local Council Elections Special Provisions act states that the council elections must be held within one year after ratification, the deadline is 9th May 2021.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said that they cannot for certain say when the state of public health emergency will be lifted.