Maldives Police Service, on Monday, arrested 24 protesters, including People’s National Congress (PNC)’s President Abdul Raheem Abdulla, in an opposition-led demonstration calling to prepone the local council election.
In a statement released by the opposition alliance of Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and PNC, they claimed that police had unlawfully dispersed the peaceful crowd that gathered in front of the Elections Commission (EC), voicing their demands.
Although police stated that only 21 participants arrested from the protest are currently in police custody, the coalition’s statement claimed that 24 people were under arrest.
The opposition called on President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Commissioner of Police Mohamed Hameed to release all the protesters arrested at the demonstration.
Noting that EC is not located in a greenzone, and stressing that it was a peaceful protest, PPM and PNC warned that the coalition will raise the issue of authorities obstructing the rights granted by the constitution, as well as abusing their power.
The opposition also claimed that the state is conducting their campaign for the election behind the guise of the COVID-19 pandemic, and accused the government of delaying the elections to buy time for the negative sentiments towards ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to die down.
“This proves the state’s incompetence and its unfamiliarity to democracy”, the coalition asserted.
The local council elections, initially scheduled for April 4, 2020, have been postponed by nearly a year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
As per the sunset bill, passed by the parliament on April 30, 2020, EC can only host the local council and Women Development Committee (WDC) elections once the presently-declared state of public health emergency is over and only after the Health Protection Agency (HPA) determines that there is no longer a public health risk to hold the elections. The bill also mandated the election watchdog to hold the election within one year of the bill's passing.
Although EC had initially planned to hold the elections in March 2021, the commission is currently facing challenges to make the arrangements for the elections since authorities have yet to nullify the public health emergency.
During January, the 'Special Bill for the Local Council Elections 2020', which enables the EC to conduct the already-delayed polls during the ongoing state of public health emergency, was approved and ratified.
At present, the election is slated for April 3, 2021.