Parliament has forwarded the Anti-defection Bill, proposed by the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), to a seven-member select committee for review. The bill is a legislative response to the recurring issue of elected officials changing party allegiances post-election, a practice that has raised serious concerns about the integrity of the democratic process and the authenticity of electoral mandates.

Ahmed Abdulla, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Baarah, proposed the bill to parliament. In a decisive vote on Tuesday, 41 out of the 51 lawmakers present voted to forward the bill to a committee for further scrutiny.

The proposed legislation applies to a broad spectrum of elected positions, including members of parliament, atoll councils, island councils, and women’s development committees. However, it pointedly excludes members of city councils from its purview.

The primary objective of the bill is to ensure that elected officials adhere to the political ideologies they pledged allegiance to at the time of their election, thereby preserving the trust and confidence of the electorate. This legislative move is a direct response to a significant number of defections witnessed in the current and previous legislative assemblies.

Under the proposed legislation, elected officials risk losing their seats under three circumstances: voluntary resignation from their party, registration with another party, or, for independents, affiliating with a political party post-election.

The bill also seeks to introduce a recall vote mechanism, empowering voters to decide the fate of representatives who switch affiliations or are expelled by their party. It also allows for by-elections to fill vacancies created by such defections, ensuring that representation remains uninterrupted.

The recent debate over the proposed anti-defection bill has underscored the argument that the electorate should play a decisive role in determining the fate of lawmakers who switch parties or are expelled.

This debate gains further significance in light of accusations from the senior advisor of the MDP, former President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, against the ruling People’s National Congress (PNC) of allegedly bribing MPs to defect, an action that threatens the efficacy of parliamentary democracy.

If passed, this will be the second anti-defection bill to be enacted. The previous legislation, now annulled, mandated that parliament members lose their seats when crossing the floor. The law was repealed following the loss in the 2018 presidential elections by then-president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.