Maldives extends council terms after coronavirus forced election delay

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on Tuesday ratified constitutional and legislative measures in a bid to ensure the continued functioning of decentralised government until fresh elections.

The president ratified amendments to to Article 231 of the constitution, which relates to the elections for local councils.

The amendments add two new provisions under the article, allowing for the tenure of incumbent atoll, city and island councils to be extended past their specified term-limits of three years, under exceptional circumstances.

The exceptional circumstances refer to a situation in which new council members are unable to replace sitting council members after the expiration of the latter’s electoral tenures.

According to the newly enacted changes, under these circumstances, special elections are to be held for local councils when possible, and incumbent council members will remain in their posts, provisionally, until new members can take office.

The constitutional amendments were passed by the parliament in a midnight sitting Monday.

Meanwhile, an emergency law followed the constitutional amendments.

The law delineates the powers and expected conduct of council members who remain in office in an interim capacity.

The act supplements the constitutional amendments and a previous sunset law, which allows for the local council elections initially scheduled for April to be delayed until they can be held safely.

The legislative measures were necessitated by the impractical nature of holding elections during the coronavirus outbreak.

Collectively, the constitutional amendment and supplementary legislation will ensure that decentralised government continues to function without practical interruption or legal obstacle during the pandemic.

On March 8, Maldives reported its first cases of the novel coronavirus, as two hotel employees tested positive for Covid-19 at a luxury resort in the archipelago.

Eighteen more cases — all foreigners working or staying resorts and liveaboard vessels except five Maldivians who had returned from abroad — were later identified.

A six-case cluster of locals, detected in capital Male on April 15, confirmed community transmission of the coronavirus. Several more clusters have since been identified, bringing the total number of confirmed case in the Maldives to 1,841.

Seven deaths have been reported and 608 have made full recoveries. Five remain in intensive care.

The Maldives announced a state of public health emergency on March 12, the first such declaration under a recent public health protection law.

The public health emergency declaration allowed the government to introduce a series of unprecedented restrictive and social distancing measures, including stay-at-home orders in capital Male and its suburbs, a ban on inter-island transport and public gatherings across the country, and a nationwide closing of government offices, schools, colleges and universities.

Non-essential services and public places in the capital such as gyms, cinemas and parks were also shut.

Restaurants and cafes in the capital were asked to stop dine-in service and switch to takeaway and delivery.

A nationwide shutdown of all guesthouses, city hotels and spa facilities located on inhabited islands is also in effect.

The restrictions in the capital region are now being eased in phases, with the first phase lasting at least until mid June. Most restrictions remain in place for the time.

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