A referendum to decide the system of government, either a parliamentary or presidential system, will be held in most of the industrial and inhabited islands of the Maldives on August 18. The Special Peoples Majlis passed a resolution on June 18 last year, to hold a referendum for the purpose of determining the form of government before amending the constitution scheduled for November 2.
President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the leader of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), who has been governing the country as the leader of a presidential republic since 1978, is looking at this as a crucial step towards elections in 2008.
The Opposition consisting of the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) and the Peoples Association (PA) hope to establish a Westminster-style government before any amendments to the constitution are made. “Our first aim should be to create a constitution that embodies more accountability and moreover establish the rule of law,” said Mr. Mohammed Latheef, the founder of the opposition party MDP, who is currently based in Colombo.
Both sides have been campaigning heavily the past few days since the Election Commissioner K. D. Ahmed Maniku announced the date for the referendum.
The guidelines for the referendum were declared by the Special Majlis, in a report on July 25. The report defined that the voting would be held under the rules of procedure of the Special Majlis and not the constitution. Furthermore they lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 which, with 24,000 young voters in the country, makes the total sum of the eligible electotors to 125,000.
“We will do everything possible to assure a free and fair procedure,” Election Minister K. D. Ahmed Maniku told the press. However many are pessimistic that voting will be free and fair.
Numerous representatives from The European Union, SAARC, the Maldives Human Rights Commission, the Commonwealth as well as members of the Special Majlis and other party members have been invited to observe the procedure on Saturday.
Mr. Latheefs’ party is certain they will win, because of the overwhelming perception they have received by the public so far, although he believes that the majority of the rural areas will be voting for the presidential system. “Even if we only achieve 30 % we will still be pleased because it shows the peoples aversion towards the President and their willingness for a change of government,” Mr. Latheef said.
Ahmed Saeer, the Colombo based Deputy High Commissioner for the Maldives, declined to comment on the referendum or the government’s invitation to international agencies. Mr. Latheef said whatever the outcome of the August 18 referendum would be he saw it as a positive development in the history of Maldivian politics as it was the first time that the public was getting directly involved in deciding the Government ,” Mr. Latheef said.Source: