Parliament has passed the Anti-Defection Bill, which requires elected officials, including lawmakers and local council members, to relinquish their seats if they switch party allegiances after being elected.

The bill, sponsored by the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), was introduced to Parliament by Ahmed Abdulla, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Baarah. It is designed to address the issue of elected officials changing party allegiances after being elected to the post, a practice that has raised serious questions about the integrity of the democratic process and the legitimacy of electoral outcomes.

The legislation was passed on Monday with a majority of 33 lawmakers voting in favour, while six voted against. The ten-point bill underwent three amendments by a seven-member select committee composed exclusively of MDP lawmakers.

Section 3 of the bill stipulates that elected officials must resign from their seats under three specific circumstances:

  • If they resign from the political party after being elected.
  • If they register with the Elections Commission (EC) as a member of a different political party.
  • If lawmakers elected as independents join a political party post-election.

The committee removed the section mandating the EC to hold a vote in the event a lawmaker from a political party is expelled from the party or if an independent joins a political party.

The bill also stipulates that if a lawmaker is expelled from their political party, they have a seven-day window to contest the party’s decision in court. If they lose the court case, they must resign once the EC informs parliament of their expulsion.

The legislation, however, does not provide explicit guidelines on the course of action to be taken if a lawmaker declines to tender their resignation under the stipulated circumstances. The legislation also applies to other elected officials, including city council, atoll council, and island council members, as well as members of women’s development committees.

While the bill will be sent to President Mohamed Muizzu for ratification, he has already expressed his support for the legislation in a recent interview. The passage of the bill follows the defection of 13 lawmakers representing the MDP to Muizzu’s People’s National Congress (PNC) after his victory in the 2023 presidential election. The MDP alleges that the PNC bribed the lawmakers to defect, an action that threatens the efficacy of parliamentary democracy.