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Parliamentary Elections: What it is and what it should be

With Parliamentary Elections approaching, here is a glance at the fundamental roles of an MP, and key things necessary to bear in mind for the legislative to function at its best.

Mariyath Mohamed
28 March 2024, MVT 10:38
View of the entrance to Maldives Parliament, People's Majlis.
Mariyath Mohamed
28 March 2024, MVT 10:38

Parliamentary Elections are just around the corner, scheduled to be held on April 21, less than a month away. Campaigning is at its peak, with candidates across the political spectrum, including the independents, pledging all they can to sway the electorate in their favour.

Walking down the streets, taking in the campaign posters and banners, seeing the campaign advertisements on media - printed and broadcast both, hearing the speeches, watching the interviews, one thought is forefront in people's minds...Are these candidates aware of what their role will be were they to be elected?

Fundamental duties of an MP vs Campaign Pledges

Let's start with the basics.

The Constitution of the Maldives. This defines our Majlis as a unicameral legislature with extensive powers.

Article 70 (a) simply states that the legislative authority of the Maldives is vested in the People's Majlis.

Article 70 (b) explains the nitty gritty.

The People's Majlis has the authority to, within defined conditions:

- amend the Constitution

- enact legislation governing any issue

- amend or repeal any law

- hold the Executive accountable

- approve the State budget, as well as any supplementary budgets

- conduct oversight of Independent institutions

- hold public referendums on issues of public interest

- conduct any other duties stipulated under the Constitution and laws

The Majlis also holds the authority to accept, reject, revoke or amend accordingly any matter submitted to it for approval, as per Article 70 (c).

An MP's work is in creating legislation and policies to affect change. Not in providing band aid solutions to selected individuals or to a single constituency.

It does not involve taking a large salary and donating a portion of it as hand outs to constituents or charity organizations, or fixing specific roads, or solving parking issues, or building housing for a certain group of people, or ending 'the immigrant problem' in one shot, or building a jetty, or even ensuring every house has a fridge and a TV. Don't look surprised, these are all pledges voiced during this very year's election cycle.

Yes, it is of deep concern that there is an individual in your constituency that is struggling to make ends meet. But the solution is not to determine an even higher pay for yourselves, and provide hand outs or charity to individuals in need.

Rather, the role of an MP is to strengthen the system, to build the legal framework of the nation, to hold the Executive accountable, to the level where no persons in the country are reduced to having to seek hand outs from politicians or other persons of influence.

In fact, acting to the contrary could amount to an act of corruption.

Article 74 (a.12) of the General Elections Act states that "Offering something or provision of a service or a promise as such to an individual, group of people or for the public, to acquire support for a candidate in an election, or negatively impact the electoral right of another candidate within the period between announcing for an election and 30 (thirty) days post announcement of results [is an offence]. Acting in a manner stated in this section or attempting to act in that manner shall constitute an offence of bribery or offence of attempted bribery".

A voting booth announces it is closed at the end of voting day.

Who does an MP represent?

Article 75 of the Constitution states that "Members of the People’s Majlis should be guided in their actions by considerations of national interest and public welfare foremost, and should not exploit their official positions in any way for their own benefit or for the benefit of those with whom they have special relations. They shall represent not only their constituencies but the country as a whole".

So despite being elected by the votes of a single constituency, an MP's work and votes in Parliament should embrace the interests of the entire nation and not just those who may have cast votes for them.

While, understandably, your constituents are raising concerns about the halted harbour project in this island, or the lack of resources in that island's hospital, your job as an MP is not to provide a once off solution designed for a specific island.

Rather, you must tackle the issue at large. How many islands are there lacking basic resources? Why is this? What is the root cause? What can you or your party, as part of the legislative, reform or establish to improve the status quo for all citizens?

It will undoubtedly be easier to maintain a parliamentary seat by catering to the needs of the approximately 5000 members of a single constituency. But that is not what is expected of an MP. Further, acting in this manner undermines the crucial role that parliamentarians can and must play in a growing democracy such as in the Maldives.

The consolidated laws of the Republic of Maldives.

Ask for change in the system, not change in your pocket

It is easy to dismiss the multitude of problems with the legislative branch as faults of the existing MPs and the newly contesting candidates. But we, as citizens of a democratic society, have our own responsibilities to bear.

We need to educate ourselves and others on the roles of a parliamentarian. The days of considering MPs to be a quick ticket to fix our headaches need to be a thing of the past.

Studies conducted by many election monitoring civil society organizations indicate that vote selling is still rampant in the Maldives. If the electorate is susceptible to being bought out for a quick cent in the pocket, how can we demand the change we deserve from the officials we elect?

While the sad reality remains that many among us are in dire situations where the small handout passed down by election hopefuls seem like a lot to us, end of the day, we cannot fix the system, we cannot improve overall conditions for all of us, unless both the electorate and those vying for parliamentary seats have a better understanding and acceptance of what an MP must be.

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