Committee set up to review bill on Ramadan election ban

Voters cast their ballot in a polling station in Male' in the Male' City Council by-elections on January 13, 2024. (Photo/Infinite Moments/Moosa Nadheem)

The Parliament on Monday accepted legislature to ban national elections during the month of Ramadan, and appointed a special committee to review the bill.

The bill to amend the General Elections Act was submitted by the main opposition MDP – which holds a majority in the Parliament - on January 24.

The bill, sponsored by Ihavandhoo MP Mohamed Shifau, comes with the parliamentary elections set to take place on March 17 – which falls within the first week of Ramadan.

The Ramadan election date has sparked concern over a likely low voter turnout.

Shifau says that in addition to seeking to ban elections in Ramadan, the bill also seeks to address the high number of invalid ballots.

He has proposed adding two more clauses to Article 43, which pertains to the day and time designated for voting.

Article 43 (a): The date and time identified for voting in a specific election and the time at which voting shall as a general principle be closed, and the time designated to start counting ballots shall be designated and announced by the Elections Commission.

The two new clauses:

(b) Though stated otherwise in this Act or any other law, elections shall not be held during Ramadan. And if an election date falls within Ramadan, the election must be held 10 days after Ramadan ends.

(c) If a situation arises under the circumstances declared in Article 43 (b) of this Act that makes it makes it impossible to follow time frames declared on this Act or laws pertaining to specific elections, then the Elections Commission must amend and set new time frames in order to follow Article 43 (b) of this Act.

Speaking during the preliminary debate on the bill on Monday afternoon, Shifau said the legislature also has the backing of the Democrats, which recently announced an alliance with the MDP.

“I believe this bill get support not just from MDP and the Democrats, but also pro-government parties, in order to remedy the concern of the people of the Maldives,” he said.

But Inguraidhoo MP Hassan Ahmed (Hassantay), who defected from MDP to the main ruling PNC in January, said that the Maldives has held elections in Ramadan in the past, and that he does not see it as an issue.

“The Maldivian people aren’t complaining because an election is being held in Ramadan. I haven’t seen people complain about any election held in Ramadan… People certainly weren’t yelling about having to vote during Ramadan during the election in Maafushi,” said Hassantay, referring to the Guraidhoo by-election held in Ramadan last year.

The bill was accepted for consideration with a vote of 39 to 11.

The Parliament also decided in favor of Hulhumale’ MP Ali Niyaz’s motion to select appoint a five-member committee to review the bill, with a vote of 39 to 12.

He suggested appointing:

  • North Henveiru MP Ibrahim Muizzu (MDP)
  • North Fuvahmulah MP Mohamed Rasheed (MDP)
  • Kendhoo MP Ali Hussain (JP)
  • North Maafannu MP Imthiyaz Fahmy (Democrats)
  • Gadhdhoo MP Ahmed Zahir (Democrats)

50 lawmakers took part in the voting. The committee members passed with a vote of 38 to 12.

Before concluding the sitting, Speaker Mohamed Aslam announced that the bill will be sent to the committee for review.