The Parliament has approved a resolution for a public referendum to change the system of governance from a presidential to a parliamentary model. The resolution, tabled by Hulhudhoo MP Ilyas Labeeb of The Democrats, garnered significant backing, including support from the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

The initial resolution called for a referendum to be held by November 30, but was later amended by MP Labeeb to accelerate the process, setting a new deadline for 30 October. The resolution was passed unanimously with the votes of 35 MPs, including members of the ruling MDP, effectively bypassing the President’s authority under Article 70(b)(6) of the Maldivian Constitution.

Article 70 of the Maldivian Constitution empowers the Parliament to hold public referendums on issues of substantial importance. This overrules President Ibrahim Mohammed Solih’s belief that a referendum could only be conducted after Parliament passes a motion with a three-fourth majority or the backing of 66 of the 87 MPs. The resolution also allows Parliament to directly instruct the Elections Commission to proceed with the referendum, negating the need for presidential involvement.

Although there was a conspicuous absence of debate when the resolution was presented, not all were in agreement. Maradhoo MP Ibrahim Shareef, a member of the MDP, expressed reservations about the feasibility of holding a referendum via a parliamentary resolution. Shareef also suggested that Article 262 of the Constitution implies that the discretion lies with the president.

Despite the naysayers, the resolution garnered full committee approval and subsequently received the green light in Parliament with a vote of 31 in favour. The decision comes amidst speculation about the role of The Democrats in the upcoming presidential runoff scheduled for September 30. It remains unclear whether The Democrats, led by Speaker Mohamed Nasheed, will form a coalition with the MDP for the runoff.

This is not the first time the Maldivian politicians have flirted with the idea of shifting to a parliamentary system. Both Nasheed and the MDP had previously advocated for such a system, even as far back as 2007. However, the country voted in favour of a presidential system.