Lawmaker submits a new bill on extending term of incumbent councilors

West Henveyru MP Hassan Latheef. (Photo/People's Majlis)

A top MDP parliamentarian has submitted a new bill to the Parliament, which is designed to accommodate an extension to the term of incumbent councilors without requiring a constitutional amendment, until such time as Maldives is able to hold the local council elections to elect new councilors.

The bill, titled “The Special Bill on Ensuring the Operation of Administrative Divisions of Maldives under Decentralization Policy 2020” was submitted to the Parliament by West Henveyru MP Hassan Latheef. The first reading of the bill is scheduled to be held during the virtual parliamentary sitting scheduled to begin at 11 am this Wednesday.

Hassan Latheef’s bill states that all incumbent island and atoll councilors must remain in power until such time as local council elections is held, and new councilors elected, citing the impending expiration of the term of incumbent councilors, and the legal vacuum which councils will be plunged into if Maldives is unable to hold the local council elections in time due to the “current situation”.

It states the Constitution does not provide a specific directive on how to proceed during such a situation.

The bill is set to take effect the moment it is ratified and published on the Government Gazette, and abolished the moment new councilors are elected and assume office.

The new bill comes with the Parliament divided over making a constitutional amendment to extend the term of incumbent councilors.

The government, in order to provide a legal remedy to the impending vacuum, had submitted a sunset bill to postpone the elections as late as January 6, 2021, and a separate constitutional amendment to extend the term of incumbent councilors until such time as new councilors are elected.

On Monday, when the first reading of the two bills had been scheduled, Parliament Speaker, President Mohamed Nasheed, directed the attention of the Parliament towards Article 267 of the Constitution, which establishes that no constitutional amendment may be made during a state of emergency.

It led to parliamentarians engaging in debate over the interpretation of the ‘state of emergency’ in Article 267; on whether it referred to a state of emergency decreed by the President under Article 253, or whether a state of public health emergency declared by the Health Minister under the Public Health Act also fell within the context.

Both the Parliament’s Counsel General Fathimath Fizla, and the Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath have said the state of emergency which Article 267 refers to is the one which is decreed by the President by invoking Article 253, and that there is no legal obstacle to making a constitutional amendment as long as the President has not decreed a state of emergency.

However, parliamentarians continued to express reservations over making a constitutional amendment all through Tuesday.

The Speaker and some other MDP parliamentarians, said that making a constitutional amendment at such a time was against the spirit of the Constitution, and that a remedy could be found in other legislature.

Some also voiced opposition to extending the term of incumbent councilors and said it went against the principles of democracy. They suggested that the President, or the Civil Service Commission, could be granted the authority to appoint officials to oversee councils until new councilors are elected.