Parliament Speaker and former President Mohamed Nasheed has asserted that the Parliament has the constitutional authority to instruct the Elections Commission (EC) to conduct a referendum on altering the governance system in the Maldives. 

Last week, Hulhudhoo MP Ilyas Labeeb, presidential candidate of Nasheed’s newly-formed Democrats party, submitted a resolution calling for a constitutional referendum. The referendum seeks to change the system of governance in the Maldives from a presidential system to a parliamentary one. Labeeb proposed that the referendum be held before 30 November.

In a Parliament sitting on Tuesday, Nasheed stated that he would extend the session until a decision on the resolution is made and communicated to the EC. According to Nasheed, the power to call for a referendum lies unequivocally with the Parliament, as per the Constitution. 

“The president has no role in this,” Nasheed added, asserting that once the Parliament approves the resolution, the EC would be legally obligated to facilitate the referendum.

The Maldives last held a constitutional referendum on a governance system change in 2007, where the majority voted to retain the presidential system. Both Nasheed and former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom had advocated for a switch to a parliamentary system at that time.

The issue of changing the system of governance has recently been a sticking point between Nasheed and current President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, leading to a rift that saw Nasheed loyalists leave the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to form The Democrats. 

Labeeb, who submitted the resolution for the new referendum, indicated that the impetus for the action came from observing the administrations since 2008. “The time has come to put the question of a system change before the people,” he said.

This marks an unprecedented move by the Parliament to directly influence constitutional policy without the need for executive approval. With the second round of the presidential election looming, the referendum’s timing further complicates an already heated political climate.