The Elections Commission has called parliamentary by-elections after a much anticipated Supreme Court decision on the disputed status of four lawmakers saw both sides claim victory with opposing interpretations.
Citing article 74 of the constitution, which requires the apex court to determine “any question concerning the qualifications or removal or vacating of seats”, the Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision Sunday evening that there was no room to adjudicate cases filed by the four former Progressive Party of Maldives MPs who were deemed to have lost their seats for crossing the floor.
As opposition supporters gathered to celebrate, the electoral body announced in a statement late Sunday night that it has resumed preparations for the polls because the Supreme Court did not overturn its decision to hold by-elections in light of the court’s July 13 anti-defection ruling.
The PPM promptly backed the commission’s stance, contending that the seats have been vacated as declared by the EC on July 19, and urging supporters to “be wary of false news and incorrect information spread by the opposition to deliberately mislead the public”.
But lawyers representing the four lawmakers told the press the “legal presumption” from the decision was clear that Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim, Mohamed Ameeth, Saud Hussain and Abdul Latheef Mohamed remain members of parliament.
The Supreme Court stated that the anti-defection ruling would not apply retroactively and was not intended “to make a determination on the membership of those who were members of the People’s Majlis on the date the judgment was delivered”.
It added that “there is no reason for any dispute over their membership” with respect to the anti-defection ruling.
The MPs had stressed during the hearings that they were expelled from the PPM long before the Attorney General sought the anti-defection ruling, which came in response to the opposition securing the parliament’s majority with defections from the ruling party. But the state attorney maintained that the four MPs remained on the PPM’s registry until the party formally requested their removal on July 18.
Hisaan Hussain, the opposition’s top lawyer, told reporters that no part of the Supreme Court decision suggests that the lawmakers have been stripped of their seats.
The decision was clear that there was no need for a decision on the removal of MPs or vacating of seats because “there was no circumstance to dispute the membership of members of the People’s Majlis as of July 13,” she said.
The court’s reference to articles that declare the supremacy of the constitution and require compliance with its provisions renders the EC’s decision to consider the seats vacant “void”, she added.
In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed and opposition lawmakers meanwhile called for an immediate vote on a no-confidence motion against the speaker of parliament, which was contentiously deemed invalid due to the disqualification of the four former PPM MPs.
Three of the four, MPs Waheed, Ameeth and Saud, were also put on trial for entering the parliament building on July 24 after the Majlis had declared that they were no longer members of parliament.
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