The Elections Commission of Maldives (EC), grappling with the complexities of conducting the upcoming parliamentary elections during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, has officially proposed changes to the amendment bill to the Elections (General) Act. Initially scheduled for 17 March, the elections are now the subject of a proposed amendment to the law put forth by the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

While the MDP seeks to postpone the elections until after Ramadan, the EC formally requested that the parliament consider the logistical challenges of holding the elections during Ramadan. Specifically, the EC has asked to include provisions in the amendment that would obligate government offices and institutions to support the EC.

During a meeting with members of the parliament committee, which is currently deliberating on the amendment bill, EC officials identified several potential obstacles to holding the elections post-Ramadan. One of the most significant challenges is scheduling school examinations between 16 and 27 April. The electoral body intends to use school halls as polling stations, but securing these venues during the examination period could prove difficult. If school halls are unavailable, the EC will incur additional costs to establish temporary polling stations elsewhere.

Fuwad Thowfeek, the Chairman of the EC, estimated that the cost of setting up temporary tents, which would require air conditioning, could exceed MVR 50 million. This figure is based on the recent local council by-elections, which utilised temporary tents and cost the EC MVR 4.6 million.

Thowfeek expressed concern over the EC’s lack of authority to ensure the availability of other institutions when deciding an election date. He cited the example of India and Sri Lanka, stating, “The respective ECs have the authority to request institutions like schools to refrain from holding examinations during election dates.”

Ismail Habeeb, the Vice Chairman of the EC, echoed Thowfeek’s sentiments. He urged the parliament to mandate state institutions and offices to provide the necessary support required by the EC to conduct the elections, should the legislation be amended to disallow the election during Ramadan. Habeeb has also called on the parliament to provide the necessary funding to hold the election.

The MDP proposed to bar the EC from holding any elections during Ramadan and to delay the parliamentary elections to at least 10 days after Ramadan. Habeeb expressed concern over this proposal, stating that if the election is held on 21 March, the EC can only finalise the results by 28 April, while the Constitution mandates the election of all candidates before 29 March.

Habeeb also highlighted the constitutional requirement that parliamentarians for the 20th parliament should be elected 30 days before the conclusion of the current 19th parliament’s term, which ends on 28 May. He expressed concern over the challenges of amending the relevant law and the Constitution and suggested a workaround: reducing the 10-day post-Ramadan period stated in the amendment bill to five days.