As Maldives navigates its way through a presidential runoff election scheduled for 30 September, a motion calling for a referendum on changing the country’s governance system from presidential to parliamentary has gained unanimous approval in Parliament.

This move has catapulted the issue of governance reform to the forefront of national discourse. The motion, put forward by Hulhudhoo MP Ilyas Labeeb of The Democrats party, was unanimously backed by all 35 MPs present during the session. 

The resolution has since been referred to a full parliamentary committee for more detailed scrutiny. While the Maldivian people had opted for a presidential system over a parliamentary one in a 2007 referendum, current Speaker of the Parliament Mohamed Nasheed insists that the Parliament, citing Articles 70 and 115 of the Constitution, can directly consult the Elections Commission to initiate a new referendum, sidestepping presidential involvement.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who is also a presidential candidate in the runoff, disclosed that he had engaged in discussions with Speaker Nasheed. Solih proposed holding the referendum within his current term but only after the runoff election. Speaker Nasheed, however, emphasises that the Parliament possesses the constitutional authority to proceed with the referendum, independent of the president’s position.

The Democrats, whose candidate Ilyas Labeeb placed third in the first round of elections, have set their support for either of the two main parties—PPM-PNC and the ruling MDP—contingent on their stance regarding the proposed referendum. The Democrats have been in talks with both parties but are yet to finalise any coalition. MDP, for its part, has suggested holding the referendum within the current presidential term but after the runoff.

Notably, PPM MP Ahmed Shiyam also voiced his support for the referendum in a recent parliamentary debate. He drew attention to the 56,900 eligible voters who abstained from voting, postulating that a referendum might elucidate whether the low turnout is a result of disinterest in the existing 16-year-old presidential system.