MP Salle concerned over holding elections amid financial constraints

Hoarafushi MP Ahmed Saleem. (File Photo/People's Majlis)

Hoarafushi MP Ahmed Saleem (Salle) has voiced concern over the implications of holding local council elections with State coffers depleted amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The preliminary debate on revisions to Special Provisions Act on Local Council Elections 2020 – designed to expedite the postponed elections - began at the Parliament on Sunday morning.

Taking part in the debate held during the extraordinary sitting, Salle said that elections are costly. He said that holding elections during the state of public health emergency will be especially costly, and is expected to cost an additional MVR 7.7 million.

“Polling stations will need to be disinfected. That alone will cost MVR 3.5 million. Thermometers to check the temperature of voters in queue are estimated to cost MVR 1.2 million. There will be 600 electoral officials and it will cost MVR 3 million for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for them,” he said.

“My question is, is it really necessary to hold the elections amid such constraints, with not enough funds for even essential matters?” asked Salle.

He also questioned what would happen if the Elections Commission’s chairman tested positive for COVID-19 just ahead of the elections and other commissioners needed to be quarantined. He also questioned what would happen if electoral officials needed to be quarantined.

“The reason why these questions arise is because this bill is talking about holding elections in accordance with guidelines we haven’t seen,” said Salle.

Salle said that facilitating unrestricted travel to campaign and vote are fundamental aspects of elections, and that it needs to established how much concessions Health Protection Agency (HPA) can allow to hold campaign activities while COVID-19 continues to spread within the country.

“Looking at the current situation, 600 people have tested positive in Maldives over the last 15 days. I don’t find it wise to push through with these revisions without looking at how much of leeway the Director General of Public Health can allow given the current circumstances,” he said.

While Salle has stated that it will take an additional MVR 7.7 million for protective measures, the Parliament approved a MVR 51 million allocation for the elections in the state budget 2021.

Elections Commission’s chairman Ahmed Shareef previously stated the commission requires at least MVR 70 million to hold the elections, and that the government has provided assurance it will release funds to fill the MVR 19 million gap.

The local council elections and women’s development committee elections were originally scheduled to be held in April 2020, but was postponed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic by passing Special Provisions Act on Local Council Elections 2020, which states the elections can only be held after the state of public health emergency is lifted and after the relevant State authority establishes that holding the elections will not pose a threat of public health.

The proposed revisions lift the restrictions, stating that the Elections Commission must begin work on organizing the elections within seven days of its enactment, and that the work must begin in accordance with guidelines and instructions issued by the Director General of Public Health.

Elections Commission is currently working on holding the elections on April 4.