14 July 2017, Male: Opposition Parliamentarians have strongly condemned as flagrantly unconstitutional a Supreme Court ruling that strips dissenting MPs of their parliamentary seats.
The Supreme Court ruling, rushed through the apex court on Thursday with only 3 of the 5 Supreme Court justices in attendance, states that lawmakers who resign or are expelled from the political parties they represented at the time of election, or switch to another party, will lose their seats in parliament.
The Supreme Court ruling, which was initiated by Attorney-General Mohamed Anil last week, follows the loss of President Yameen’s parliamentary majority and a looming vote of no confidence against the parliamentary speaker, a Yameen crony, on 24 July.
The ruling is blatantly unconstitutional, and defies a number of existing laws and rulings.
– Article 73 of the Constitution clearly states how a MP can be stripped of their seat: according to the Constitution, an MP will be disqualified only if he is sentenced to more than a year in prison, has a decreed debt, or becomes a member of the judiciary.
– The Supreme Court cannot impose a new penalty to strip MPs of their seats, as the Constitution clearly grants MPs immunity in relation to their work, words or votes in Parliament.
– The Judicature Act states that a 5-judge bench must deliberate a constitutional issue. However, only 3 Supreme Court judges oversaw the case.
– The Political Parties Act, Article 16 states that while an elected official can be expelled from a party on disciplinary matters, they will not have to forfeit their seat.
– A 2012 ruling by the Supreme Court said local councillors cannot be made to forfeit their seats if they switch parties.
MPs not allowed to leave party; resignations not acknowledged
10 PPM MPs, who signed the motion of no confidence against the parliament speaker, have since left the ruling party, but the PPM Secretariat has refused to accept their resignation citing ongoing inquiries by its ethics committee. The PPM has also refused to acknowledge receipt of letters the MPs sent to the party informing their decision to leave the party.
However, Article 15 of the Political Parties Act also states any member of a Political Party can leave the Party without prior notification.
The Supreme Court ruling said MPs will lose their seat once the Elections Commission informs parliament of their change of status, and ordered state institutions to enforce the new rule with effect from July 13. This exempts MPs who switched parties earlier from the opposition to the ruling party, and ties in the MPs whose resignation the PPM is refusing to acknowledge. 24 hours before the Supreme Court ruling, President Yameen also signed the Deputy Speaker of Parliament to the PPM.
After parliamentary elections in 2014, a number of MPs from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, and the Jumhooree Party as well as independents, joined the ruling PPM. President Yameen welcomed them to the ruling party. Now the tide is moving against the President, he is using the Supreme Court bench to undercut the powers of the legislature, and encroaching on the prerogative of individual MPs.
False references in the SC ruling
The Supreme Court ruling contained a number of glaring falsehoods:
– The justices cited Islamic legal principles on peace and security in light of a constitutional provision that requires judges to consider Islamic Shariah “when deciding matters on which the constitution or the law is silent.”
– The Chief Justice also said that lawmakers crossing the floor undermines multi-party democracy and poses a threat to sovereignty and rule of law. He cited anti-defection amendments in the “Indian Constitution and the right to revoke seats in the USA.” The ruling also said that party switching is not prohibited in Western European democracies because it is rare and usually leads to resignation.
– However, the Constitution is not silent on this matter, and the ruling is a direct contravention of Article 73, and in contrast to the countries and examples cited by the Supreme Justices, the apex court’s Thursday night ruling comes half- way through a Parliamentary term.
The Supreme Court ruling is a deliberate and politically motivated attempt by President Yameen to thwart the no-confidence motion, and is an egregious example of Executive’s continual manipulation of the judiciary to retain power, and obstruct the opposition’s majority in parliament.
This is not the first time President Yameen has obstructed a vote of no confidence against the parliament speaker. During a no confidence vote in March, Yameen send in the army to drag out opposition MPs during the vote. The Government used its then majority to change the house rules 24 hours before the vote, and Parliament’s electronic voting system was also tampered with prior to the vote.
Opposition’s commitment to MPs; Speaker’s impeachment must be scheduled
Following the ruling, former presidents, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and President
Mohamed Nasheed both immediately pledged their commitment and support to any MPs who might be expelled from parliament for voting with his or her conscience, and said they will be supported by the opposition coalition to regain their seat.
The Jumhooree Party and the Adaalath Party also pledged their support to any MPs who might lose their seat as a consequence of their reform work.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, the leader of MDP Parliamentary Group Ibrahim Mohamed Solih MP said: “This [Supreme Court ruling] will not deter us or the ongoing efforts [to remove the Speaker].”
Faris Maumoon MP of the ruling party, added: “If losing our seat is the sacrifice we have to make, we are prepared to do this.”
JP Deputy Leader, MP Abdulla Riyaz said: “the opposition’s work to hold the Government accountable will not be stopped.”
More MPs who defected from the ruling party have spoken out saying this will not deter them from their commitment to impeach the Speaker of Parliament.
In March, the leaders of four political parties, President of Progressive Party of the Maldives H.E. Uz. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, President of the Maldivian Democratic Party H.E. Mohamed Nasheed, Leader of Jumhooree Party Hon. Qasim Ibrahim and President of Adhaalath Party Sheikh Imran Abdulla signed a coalition agreement committing their parties to work towards democratic reforms in the Maldives.