Legal Politics

Lawmakers set to lose seats – again – after Supreme Court ruling

A dozen lawmakers who were controversially stripped of their seats look set to be booted out of parliament for good, after the Supreme Court ruled that a new anti-defection law is not unconstitutional.

The anti-defection law penalises floor crossing and was ratified in March this year.

The MPs will lose their seats as the law retrospectively applies the anti-defection punishment starting from July 13, which was before most of the lawmakers were kicked out of the ruling party.

It is not clear if or when there will be by-elections for the soon-to-be vacated seats.

The opposition challenged the legality of the law as the ruling coalition lacked the constitutional quorum needed to pass laws. More than half the 85-member house must be present for voting on “any matter requiring compliance by citizens.” But only 39 MPs attended the sitting which approved the bill.

On Tuesday, three Supreme Court justices, with Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi presiding, conceded that parliament had passed the law without the constitutionally required quorum.

However they ruled that arguments made by state attorneys about a “doctrine of necessity” overruled the need to follow a constitutional requirement.

The opposition’s parliament boycott posed “obstacles to calling votes on crucial matters” of economic and social welfare, state attorneys had contended at the last hearing on the case.

They accused lawmakers of grinding the legislature to a halt by using the boycott to “veto” government-sponsored legislation.

Justice Didi said that the constitution and other laws obligated lawmakers to attend and vote in all parliamentary sittings unless there was a valid reason for their absence. Noting that opposition lawmakers had also confessed to boycotting parliamentary sittings, he ruled that the argument for a “doctrine of necessity” was valid.

Didi said that in some democratic countries administrative action can be taken against lawmakers who purposefully boycott parliament sittings including dismissal and fines.

He also acknowledged that opposition MPs were boycotting parliamentary sittings due to some issues they had and emphasised the role of the president in settling political disputes within the parliament.

Didi said that some democracies allowed the president to halt parliament to solve disputes and noted that in parliamentary systems the head of state had the authority to dissolve parliament if disputes cannot be solved.

Speaking to the Maldives Independent, Mohamed Musthafa, a lawmaker who will lose his seat, said that he was more concerned about what the Supreme Court was insinuating by suggesting that disciplinary action should be taken against MPs.

“I have previously been stripped off my seat too. It is far less concerning to me than the Supreme Court suggesting that the president can interfere in the roles of parliament and that MPs should be penalized. That is more concerning right now than anything else,” Musthafa said.

The Supreme Court’s ruling has far reaching implications as it allows for ruling party lawmakers to approve legislation without the constitutional quorum.

Currently, with the stripping of seats from 12 MPs, the ruling party has a narrow majority in the parliament with 40 MPs while the opposition has 31 MPs.

Opposition lawmakers have been boycotting sittings since July after a majority-backed no-confidence motion against the speaker was rejected.

The controversial removal of 12 MPs in 2016 was used to wipe out a new opposition majority in the parliament.

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Source URL:  Maldives Independent

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