President Mohamed Muizzu ratified the Anti-Defection Bill on Tuesday, which could be crucial in providing much-needed political stability. The legislation, which was passed by the parliament on 1 April, addresses the issue of elected representatives switching their political affiliations during their term, and its ratification comes just days before the country heads to the polls to elect a new parliament.

The law is designed to manage scenarios where an elected member is administratively removed from their political party, voluntarily leaves their elected party to join a different party, or renounces their independence status to affiliate with a political party. In such instances, the law mandates the elected member to tender their resignation. The law applies to elected officials, including lawmakers and members of local councils—city, atoll, and island councils—and women’s development committees elected under the Decentralisation Act.

The act is aimed at ensuring elected officials remain accountable to their constituents, mandating that they adhere to the political ideology under which they were elected. The Elections Commission (EC) plays a crucial role in this, as it is obligated to conduct by-elections for vacancies resulting from defections. The law also permits members who lose their seats due to defection to contest subsequent by-elections.

The ratification of the bill has not been without controversy. The opposition, led by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), has been vocal in calling for President Muizzu to expedite the ratification process. Former President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, senior advisor of the MDP, has criticised the delay in President Mohamed Muizzu’s ratification of the bill, viewing it as a hindrance to democracy.

The bill, which secured parliamentary approval with 33 votes in favour—primarily from the MDP and The Democrats—and six against, stipulates that Members of Parliament (MPs) must resign should they abandon the party under which they were elected for their parliamentary term.

West Maafannu MP Mohamed Falah had previously accused President Muizzu of delaying the bill’s ratification with the intention to “buy” the loyalties of lawmakers. Falah alleged that about 13 MDP lawmakers have defected to the ruling People’s National Congress (PNC) through acts of bribery.

The bill reflects a rising demand for political fidelity, underscored by a survey conducted by the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) revealing that 73 percent of respondents advocated disqualifying MPs crossing the floor.

The Constitution mandates the President to decide on the ratification of a bill within 15 days of its passage in parliament. The ratification of the anti-defection bill came on the final day of the 15-day period.