The 2024 parliamentary elections, initially scheduled for 17 March, will be deferred following the passing of an amendment bill to the Elections (General) Act on Sunday. The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) proposed the bill, which sought to prohibit the Elections Commission of Maldives (EC) from conducting any elections during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.

The MDP contended that holding the election during Ramadan would present logistical challenges for the EC, candidates, and voters, potentially leading to a diminished voter turnout. With the passing of the amendment bill, the EC is now mandated to reschedule the vote for a date after Ramadan.

The amendment bill, proposed by Mohamed Shifau, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Ihavandhoo, on behalf of the MDP, stipulates that any election coinciding with Ramadan can only be held a minimum of 10 days after the conclusion of the fasting month. The bill was passed with 46 votes, while three lawmakers voted against it.

Notably, lawmakers of the ruling People’s National Congress (PNC) and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) coalition abstained from the vote. However, the amendment was passed with the support of The Democrats.

The bill was examined by a five-member ad hoc committee, which sought counsel from the EC during the review process. Ismail Habeeb, the Vice Chairman of the EC, expressed concerns over holding the elections 10 days after Ramadan, stating that this would not provide the commission with sufficient time to conduct vote counting and announce the results by the timeline mandated in the Constitution.

Habeeb also underscored the constitutional requirement that parliamentarians for the 20th parliament should be elected 30 days before the conclusion of the current 19th parliament’s term, which ends on 28 May. If the vote is held on 21 April, the EC will only have six days to conduct vote counting, he added.

Despite the legislative amendment to defer the parliamentary elections to a post-Ramadan date, the EC stated on Saturday that the nomination period for candidates will remain unchanged. With the passing of the amendment bill, the earliest the EC can conduct the upcoming parliamentary election is 20 April. The amendment bill will now be forwarded to President Mohamed Muizzu for ratification.