Voting has begun for the 2021 Local Council and Women's Development Committee Elections.
3,934 candidates are contesting for seats across 220 constituencies and 181 women's development committees across the Maldives this year in the Local Council and WDC Elections. This will include 2,264 candidates contesting for local council seats and 1,670 candidates contesting for women's development committees.
The 2021 Local Council and Women's Development Committee Elections are notable as a historic elections for women leaders in the Maldives. This is the first time an election will be held in the Maldives with a certain percentage of seats reserved for women candidates. As such, 33 percent of seats from Local Councils will be reserved for women, including 370 island council seats and 14 seats from city councils.
Voters will be heading to polls with the unprecedented pressure of the pandemic around them; the elections have been delayed severely due to Covid-19, and Saturday's vote will likely see much lower voter turnout than in previous elections. Voting began at 7am on Saturday with 243 ballot boxes in Male' City, 325 ballot boxes in atolls and across the cities of Kulhudhuhfushi, Fuvahmulah and Addu, 137 ballot boxes in resorts, along with four ballot boxes in prisons, four ballot boxes in Sri Lanka and one ballot box stationed in India. Voting was delayed at some stations due to technical difficulties, and EC President Ahmed Shareef revealed that some stations remain inactive due to lack of voter turnout at the opening of polling stations.
As voters slowly begin casting ballots in the Local Council and WDC Elections across the country, 120 candidates have already secured seats prior to the vote.
90 candidates from across 31 WDC's have defaulted seats prior to the election, along with 30 candidates elected to 22 positions across local councils. It can be noted that a number of candidates withdrew their names from the ballot last-minute as the elections were delayed due to Covid-19. The EC reports that 308 candidates contesting in the elections withdrew their names from the ballots between June 2020 and February 2021.
A total of 273,128 citizens are eligible to vote in the polls, out of which 5,134 will be first-time voters. This is the highest number of new voters to participate in an election so far.
Polling stations are expected to remain open into the night, as the voting time for quarantined, Covid-positive and traveling voters has been set between 5pm and 6pm, after all other citizens have cast their votes. The Elections Commission earlier projected that interim results of the elections will be available around 8pm on Saturday.
The Elections Commission had been issued an initial budget of MVR 51 million to conduct the elections, and had secured an additional MVR 29.8 million to host the elections despite delays and difficulties caused by Covid-19. The present procedure at polling stations, which requires social distancing and effective masking, were designated by the EC and Health Protection Agency (HPA) in order to ensure that all citizens can freely and safely cast their vote.