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Constitutional amendment required to extend council term: AG

Ali Shareef
12 May 2020, MVT 20:40
The Attorney General on Monday declared his legal opinion that a constitutional amendment is required to extend the term of outgoing local councillors. PHOTO: MIHAARU
Ali Shareef
12 May 2020, MVT 20:40

Attorney General (AG) Ibrahim Riffath, on Monday, called on the parliament to bring forth amendments to the constitution in order to extend the term of outgoing local councillors until the delayed local council elections can be held.

AG’s comments were in response to a request by the parliament to provide input to "The Special Bill on Ensuring the Operation of Administrative Divisions of Maldives under Decentralization Policy 2020" proposed by parliamentary representative for the Henveiru-West constituency, Hassan Latheef.

Meanwhile, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on Sunday ratified a special bill on local elections, instituting provisions to postpone local council and Women’s Development Committee (WDC) elections until the presently-declared state of public health emergency due to COVID-19 is over.

However, the three-year constitutional term of the incumbent councillors was due to expire on June 3, 2020.

Hassan submitted the bill over the matter, citing a potential legal vacuum when the outgoing council members' terms expire.

According to the letter by the state’s top attorney, a law cannot define the term of councils, as term limits were already stipulated by Article 230 and 231 of the Constitution.

The government earlier proposed constitutional amendments to extend terms of local councils until elections can be held.

However, parliament opted to pass the sunset bill instead of adopting the government's proposal, citing concern over the dubious nature of amending the constitution during a national emergency.

Riffath also urged in his letter to the parliament, to respect the constitutional arrangements laid out in chapter 8, on decentralized governance.

The parliament in December 2019, re-hauled the decentralization framework, introducing new legal and constitutional changes. It includes a historic gender quota, significant legal and fiscal autonomy, along with an extension of their term in office from three years to a five year period of local councils and WDC members.

Accordingly, the Elections Commission called for council elections, with candidates having filed papers and arrangements been made to go to polls on April 6, 2020.

However, COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent declaration of a public health emergency indefinitely delayed the scheduled elections, causing panic over a potential legal vacuum.

Currently, as the sunset bill stands, the delayed election must be held within a one-year period from enactment.

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