The Elections Commission of Maldives (ECM) has officially commenced the nomination process for the upcoming 2024 parliamentary elections, scheduled for 17 March. The nomination period, from 30 January to 14 February, provides a two-week window for prospective candidates to submit their applications.

The ECM has established an election centre at Dharubaaruge to facilitate the filing of nomination papers. The centre will operate from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., except Fridays, when it will accept nominations from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

However, the election timing, which coincides with the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, has ignited a controversy among political factions. The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has proposed an amendment to the Elections (General) Act, which, if passed, would force the ECM to set a post-Ramadan date for the vote.

The amendment, proposed by Member of Parliament (MP) for Ihavandhoo, Mohamed Shifau, on behalf of the MDP, aims to bar the ECM from conducting any elections during the fasting month. Regardless of the final date, the ECM has confirmed that voting will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In a recent TV interview, Ismail Habeeb, the Vice Chairman of the ECM, stated that the commission is prepared to conduct the vote after Ramadan if the legislative body makes such a decision. He added that such a move would address concerns related to a potentially lower turnout during Ramadan.

“The Elections [Commission] will adhere to the rule of law. Should the law be amended to schedule the election post-Ramadan, it would mitigate the challenges of conducting a vote during fasting. We project an increase in voter participation in a post-Ramadan election scenario,” Habeeb said.

A legislative decision to amend the relevant law would necessitate numerous changes to the election proceedings. The number of eligible voters would increase, requiring the commission to update and publish the electoral rolls, which would also necessitate a complaint period for irregularities, Habeeb said.

Political parties are currently preparing for their parliamentary primaries. The opposition MDP and The Democrats have scheduled their parliamentary primaries for 3 February. The ruling coalition, the People’s National Congress (PNC) and the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), concluded their parliamentary primaries on 27 January.

The tenure of the incumbent 19th parliament, comprising 87 lawmakers, is set to conclude on May 28, 2024. The 20th parliament will witness increased representation with the addition of six constituencies, bringing the total number of seats to 93. The new constituencies include Central and North Hulhumalé, Hithaadhoo, Huraa, Kolamaafushi, and North Feydhoo.