Male, March 14 (AVAS/MI /newsin.asia): The Maldivian opposition has gone to the Supreme Court to nullify two bills passed on Tuesday, one an Anti-Defection Bill, effectively unseating 12 lawmakers, and another amending the Judicature Act to allow sitting judges to be removed, if convicted of a criminal offence, by an appellate court.
The Anti-Defection Bill was proposed by ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) parliamentary group leader and Villimale MP Ahmed Nihan, while the amendments to the Judicature Act was proposed by PPM’s deputy leader and Fonadhoo MP Abdul Raheem Abdullah last week.
The Anti-Defection Bill passed with 36 votes in favor, and the amendments to the Judicature Act passed with 38 votes in favor.
The opposition had boycotted the sitting.
The Parliament Committee on Independent Institutions, which is dominated by pro-government MPs, had reviewed and approved the bill and the amendments at the committee meeting held late Monday night.
The Anti-Defection Bill states that if a lawmaker defects or was expelled from the political party they were registered to at the time of election, they will automatically lose their seat in the parliament.
Further, the parliamentary committee in its review stated that the Anti-Defection Bill would be put into effect retroactively from July 13, 2017. That was when the Supreme Court first issued its contentious ruling on parliament floor crossing and unseated several MPs.
The committee had also removed a clause in the bill that gave the Elections Commission the authority to draft regulations to put the bill in effect.
While the ratification of the Anti-Defection Bill effectively strips 12 lawmakers of their membership in the parliament, the Supreme Court, in an unprecedented ruling February 1, had reinstated these MPs and ordered the release of nine high-profile political prisoners.
However, after two justices of the court were arrested under the state of emergency declared February 5, the remaining judges of the court had revoked its previous ruling that reinstated the MPs and freed the political prisoners.
Meanwhile, the parliamentary committee had not revised the amendments to the Judicature Act proposed by MP Abdul Raheem, and approved it, allowing judges to be removed if an appellate court finds them guilty of a criminal offence.
The opposition maintains that the amendment proposed by the government contradicts Article 154 of the Constitution, which states that a judge can only be removed from office if the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) finds that the judge is grossly incompetent, or that the judge is guilty of gross misconduct.
The JSC is required to submit a resolution to the parliament supporting the removal of the judge, which has to be approved by at least two-thirds majority of the parliament.
However, the new amendment proposed by the government states that the procedures declared in Article 154 of the Constitution would not be applicable when removing a judge who has been found guilty of a crime, since it does not constitute for a disciplinary action.
The recently ratified amendment to the Judicature Act also states that a convicted judge’s appeal at the High Court must conclude within 30 days of the lower court issuing its verdict, and if the matter is taken to the Supreme Court, a verdict should be reached within 30 days of filing the appeal at the top court.
With the approval of the Anti-Defection Bill, 12 lawmakers will lose their seats in the parliament.
The MPs to be axed include Thulusdhoo MP Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim, Villingili MP Saud Hussain, Maduvvari MP Mohamed Ameeth and Dhidhdhoo MP Abdul Latheef Mohamed, Machangolhi South MP Abdulla Sinan, Dhangethi MP Ilham Ahmed, Thinadhoo South MP Abdulla Ahmed, Thimarafushi MP Mohamed Musthafa, and Fuvahmulah North MP Ali Shah.
The amendments to the Judicature Act was proposed at a time when the Maldives’ Chief Justice Abdullah Saeed and Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed are under arrest, and accused of bribery and conspiring to overthrow the government, along with several other serious allegations. If the top court finds them guilty, the two top judges will be deposed, without a parliament vote, as stipulated in the Constitution.
The opposition however said that the two bills were passed unconstitutionally because such bills have to have at least 43 MPs of the total of 85 MPs supporting it. But only 36 and 38 voted.
Asked if it would not have been democratic if the opposition had attended parliament and raised its voice against the bills, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said that it would have been futile as 12 MPs who would have voted with the opposition remained sacked despite a February 1 Supreme Court order re-instating them.
The strength of the opposition as well as Parliament’s had been reduced as a result of the sacking of the 12 MPs.
Ghafoor said that it is noteworthy that the two bills have not been ratified by President Abdulla Yameen yet.
On the on-going negotiations between the opposition and the government, Ghafoor said that he is not authorized to talk about it but wondered if the government is serious about the talks given the way it rushed through the two bills on Tuesday crippling the independence of the judiciary and the opposition in parliament.
He said that the best solution for the impasse is a free and fair election to parliament due in September 2018.
(The featured image at the top shows sacked MPs talking to the media)