The government and opposition parties, led by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), are locked in a tussle over the scheduling of the forthcoming parliamentary elections. The Elections Commission (EC) has scheduled the vote for 17 March, which coincides with the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan. In a countermove, the parliament passed an amendment to the Elections (General) Act on 11 February, compelling the EC to postpone the vote until after Ramadan.

President Mohamed Muizzu, however, has refused to ratify this amendment bill, a move interpreted by the opposition as an attempt to subvert the parliament’s decision. The bill, dispatched for ratification 15 days ago, faced a Monday deadline for the president to either ratify it or return it to parliament. Subsequently, President Muizzu returned the bill to parliament for reconsideration.

Ahmed Easa, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Kendhikulhudhoo and MDP’s campaign spokesperson, criticised President Muizzu’s reluctance to sign the bill into law as a flagrant disregard for a decision made by parliament on behalf of the people.

“President Muizzu is challenging a decision endorsed by the people by withholding ratification of the bill. Should he maintain this position, we will enact legislation to empower the EC to postpone the vote,” MP Easa articulated at a press conference on Monday.

MP Easa further added that the MDP will always prioritise the people’s best interests. He stated, “The bill to defer the election was not passed to pose a challenge or create difficulties for anyone. Active participation in political events and voting during the fasting month would pose a significant challenge for the public, political parties, and candidates.” Lower voter turnout in recent elections is a significant concern for all political parties, candidates, and concerned agencies, he added.

While the EC has scheduled parliamentary elections for 17 March, the parliament, on 11 February, passed an amendment to the law, effectively mandating that the polls be held ten days after Ramadan. According to the Constitution, the president has 15 days to ratify a bill or send it back to Parliament.

While President Muizzu has requested the parliament to reevaluate the bill, if the parliament decides on a re-passage of the bill without any additional amendments, and it is supported by the majority vote of the total number of parliamentary members, the bill, in accordance with the Constitution, must be ratified by the president and published in the Government Gazette.

“We will consistently uphold the Constitution and laws. An amendment bill, if not ratified and subsequently not published in the Government Gazette, does not attain the status of law. In the scenario of repassing the amendment bill to the Elections (General) Act by the Parliament, the electoral body will initiate deliberations to determine the appropriate course of action,” Ismail Habeeb, the Vice Chairman of the EC, told Maldives Republic.

“Initiating deliberations does not inherently imply that we will commence discussions on rescheduling the election. It simply signifies that we will consider our subsequent steps. We remain steadfast in our decision to conduct the vote on 17 March but will determine a new date once the bill is ratified and officially published in the Government Gazette,” he further elaborated.

The MDP posits that President Muizzu might opt to withhold his signature on the bill, even after its re-passage in parliament. In the event of such a decision, and if the EC declines to postpone the vote until after Ramadan, the MDP, which commands a majority in parliament, has warned that it would initiate measures against EC members, potentially leading to their removal.