Elections Commission (EC) President Ahmed Shareef expressed concerns for the many obstacles to hosting the Local Council and Women’s Development Committee (WDC) elections, noting that the commission would ideally choose to not host the elections in light of Covid-19, and the state of public health emergency in place across the Maldives at this time.
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Tuesday saw the Elections Commission announce 10 April 2021 as the date on which the Local Council and WDC elections, initially scheduled for April last year, would be conducted, with official work to host the elections set to begin this Saturday. Speaking at an appearance on Raajje TV’s “Fala Surukhee” program on Tuesday night, EC President Shareef revealed that there were many obstacles to hosting elections during a state of public health emergency. He added that while the Health Protection Agency (HPA) had publicized special health and safety regulations to be implemented during the elections, they represented an extra set of significant restrictions for the Commission in conducting the elections.
EC President Shareef declared that the commission would not be able to conduct elections under the regulations set forth by HPA despite the law requiring them to host the elections before 9 May 2021. Shareef further identified their biggest concern as the cost to conduct elections doubling during a state of public health emergency, from the initial estimate of hosting the vote under normal circumstances. He revealed that MVR 95 million would be spent for the elections to be conducted under present conditions.
In addition to this, EC President Shareef explained that under the present guidelines shared by HPA, EC would need to increase the number of ballot boxes issued for the voting. He said that if 500 persons were to cast their votes into the same ballot box, and if that number were in any way reduced, they would have to station 100 more ballot boxes in order to afford all those registered the right to cast their vote. Shareef noted that each ballot box needed to have designated officials assigned, and that HPA regulations required them to have a backup team of officials ready as well in the event any of the primary vote officials were forced to quarantine, which would all incur extra costs in conducting the elections.
I am once again saying, if the elections have been delayed this long, it would be better to wait two or three more months in lieu of spending MVR 95 million. If the Elections Commission had any legal influence over the issue we would not conduct this elections as such a costly one.
~ President of the Elections Commission Ahmed Shareef
Shareef also highlighted the difficulties candidates contesting in the elections may face during campaign efforts due to the restrictions in place because of the Covid-19 pandemic. He added that the new regulations presented for the elections required EC to undertake the logistically complex endeavor of providing Covid-positive voters and those in quarantine facilities accessibility to the vote by arranging transport to voting stations.
EC President Shareef further reveled that the present situation had resulted in ideological conflicts between the commission’s members as well, and that their stance was to delay the voting until June so that that vaccination efforts could help ease the restrictions to the vote caused by Covid-19. He further announced that EC would be consulting the People’s Majilis in relation to the difficulties they face in conducting elections
The People’s Majilis had convened in extraordinary sessions to pass special legislation as the Local Council and WDC elections, initially scheduled for April 2020, which were being delayed indefinitely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ratified the first amendment to the Local Council Elections Special Provisions Act 2020 on 21 January, which requires relevant authorities to move forward with election proceedings as per regulations set forth by the Director General of Public Health despite the current health emergency. The final deadline before which EC must conduct the elections is 9 May 2021.