The Parliament, on Monday, voted in favor of accepting a bill submitted by a top Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) parliamentarian which is designed to accommodate an extension to the term of incumbent councilors without making a constitutional amendment.
The bill in question, titled “The Special Bill on Ensuring the Operation of Administrative Divisions of Maldives under Decentralization Policy 2020” was submitted by West Henveyru MP Hassan Latheef.
The bill was accepted into the Parliament with a majority vote of 53 parliamentarians during a virtual parliamentary sitting this afternoon. Six had voted against the bill, while one had abstained.
The bill was been sent to the Decentralization Committee for review.
The 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. It cites 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 COVID-19 situation and the lack of specific directive on the Constitution regarding 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.
Maldives invoked a state of public health emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic on March 12, and the Local Council Elections, which was originally scheduled for April 4, has been postponed.
The postponement, while necessary to curb the spread of the virus, will create a legal vacuum, once the term of the current councilors expires on June 3.
The constitution establishes the term of incumbent councilors to be three years, as the later extension of the term of councilors to five years does not apply to incumbent councilors, who had been elected prior to the amendment.
This has therefore been used by some parliamentarians to question the legality of Hassan Latheef’s bill.
The government had originally submitted two pieces of legislature to remedy the situation; sunset bill to postpone the election as late as January 6, 2021, and a constitutional amendment to extend the term of current councilors until such time as an election is held.
While the sunset bill was passed by the Parliament last week, the constitutional amendment was tabled over a difference of opinion within the Parliament over the legality of a constitutional amendment at such a time. And even after both the Attorney General and Counsel General of Parliament provided assurance there was no legal obstacle to making the amendment, some parliamentarians continued to express reservations, arguing that it went against the spirit of the constitution.