The Elections Commission of Maldives (ECM) is considering the representation of persons with disabilities on the National Advisory Committee on Parliamentary Elections, Vice Chairman and spokesperson of the ECM Ismail Habeeb has revealed.

The ECM is extending an invitation to a civil society organisation that champions the rights of disabled persons to join the National Advisory Committee. This initiative is a significant part of the ECM’s ongoing commitment to ensuring that disabilities are not barriers to civic participation.

This marks a historic moment in the Maldives, as it is the first time the ECM has actively sought the representation of disabled persons on the National Advisory Committee. The move is expected to enhance the ECM’s efforts to ensure that individuals who are blind, visually impaired, or have other disabilities can engage in the electoral process autonomously, thereby preserving their privacy and dignity.

Habeeb, in a post on X (formerly Twitter), stated, “Organisations vested in the advocacy of persons with disabilities are invited to express their interest in representation on the committee. The deadline for expressions of interest is 2 p.m. on 28 January. The opportunity is open only to registered entities. Interested parties are required to submit a letter on official letterhead, along with a profile of the organisation, added Habeeb.

The 2023 presidential elections, held in September, were a landmark moment for the Maldives. For the first time in the country’s history, blind or visually impaired voters could use an innovative template for autonomous voting. This transformative amendment to the Electoral Act was implemented following a recommendation by the Blind and Visually Impaired Society of Maldives (BVISM), whose members have been actively advocating for this change.

The ECM’s efforts to enable unassisted voting for people with visual impairments ensured that no procedural, physical, or behavioural attitudes hindered or narrowed the rights of a community of people who are blind and visually impaired. This move was a testament to the progress made for disability inclusion in the Maldivian electoral process, joining other countries making reasonable accommodations to ensure voting is accessible for all.

The areas of Alifu Dhaalu, Haa Dhaalu, Gaafu Dhaalu, and Malé atolls have the highest populations of blind and visually impaired individuals, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The blind and visually impaired could vote in the September election with the combined efforts of the ECM, facilitated by the UNDP through financial support for the initiative with the generous backing of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

The upcoming parliamentary election is slated to be held on 17 March. The nomination period will commence on 30 January and conclude on 14 February. The ECM has also published the electoral roll, which lists 284,327 eligible voters, comprising 139,165 women and 145,162 men. Voters can submit objections regarding any discrepancies in the electoral roll before the deadline on 21 January to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the upcoming election, the ECM said.

The tenure of the incumbent 19th parliament, comprising 87 lawmakers, is set to conclude on 28 May 2024. The 20th parliament will witness an increase in representation, with an additional six members, bringing the total number of seats to 93.