The four lawmakers who were notoriously “expelled” from the parliament, on Saturday got together to emphasise the dire need for the Supreme Court to clarify its verdict regarding their disqualification.
In an ambiguous verdict that was released late last month, the apex court had stated that there was “nothing more to decide” regarding the four parliamentarians who were contesting their disqualification.
The four parliamentarians whose seats were challenged are: Villingili MP Saud Hussain, Dhidhoo MP Abdul Latheef Mohamed, Madduvvari MP Mohamed Ameeth and Thulusdhoo MP Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim.
The court’s decision was deemed conspicuous as it had not explicitly stated that the members were disqualified from the parliament; it simply referred to its earlier ruling and stated that it maintained its previous decision.
Both the government and opposition supporters had celebrated the verdict, as they had interpreted it to their favour.
Meanwhile, the Elections Commission (EC) has announced by-elections for these constituencies.
Speaking at a press conference held at the opposition coalition’s main party hub, ‘Kunooz’ in the capital Male, the Thulusdhoo MP Waheed Ibrahim claimed that the EC has no jurisdiction to announce by-elections yet as the members’ disqualification is still in conflict.
“The Supreme Court’s procedural guidelines says that the court’s verdict has to be clear for both parties involved in a case. What I personally interpreted from the verdict was that none of the members contesting their disqualification has been expelled,” Waheed Ibrahim, who is also a lawyer, said.
Waheed Ibrahim also highlighted how the constitution states that the apex court has the final say regarding the membership of a parliamentarian. Therefore, according to the Thulusdhoo MP, EC cannot make any decisions until the court gives a more definitive response. The EC could potentially face criminal charges for infringing a Supreme Court order, he said.
Waheed Ibrahim maintained that he was expelled from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) before the apex court’s order in July that had put their parliament membership in question, and that he has the paperwork to prove it.
Villingili MP Saud had also reiterated Thulusdhoo MP’s concern about the EC and said that it cannot start preparations for by-elections until the apex court gives a more conclusive verdict.
“The Supreme Court cannot simply remain idle on this issue anymore. The citizens are debating this verdict and there’s disgruntlement building up amongst the citizen because of the different interpretations of this verdict. So the [Supreme Court] needs to take action and be more pro-active and clarify what it means because there’s tension mounting amongst the citizens now,” Saud said.
While Saud and Waheed Ibrahim called on the court and EC to act within the confines of the law, Madduvari MP Ameeth had urged the citizens to speak out and raise their voices against injustices. He said that it is important for the citizens to call out on such matters in order to hold the government more accountable.
He also said that he does not believe that he has lost his parliament seat, and said that he will continue to attend parliament sittings on its next session. Dhidhoo MP Abdul Latheef said that he will also continue going to the parliament sittings as neither the parliament secretariat, nor the EC has officially informed him of his disqualification. Abdul Latheef said that he has more papers to prove that he is a parliamentarian, than papers proving his disqualification.
Supreme Court’s Anti-Defection Ruling
The conflict surrounding the parliamentarians’ membership arose after the Supreme Court issued a ruling on July 13, stating that any member that resigns or is expelled from the political party they were registered to at the time of election, or shifts to another party, will lose their seat in the parliament. The apex court had clarified its ruling just two days later and held that the ruling cannot be applied retroactively.
Maldivian Constitution already lists the conditions under which parliamentarians would lose their seats, which includes failure to pay a decreed debt, criminal convictions entailing jail sentences of over 12 months, or being part of the judiciary. The Constitution does not specify leaving or expulsion from political parties or floor-crossing as conditions to oust lawmakers.
Furthermore, Section (16) (2) of the Political Parties Act allows parliamentarians who have been expelled from their respective political parties due to a disciplinary issue, to appeal the party’s decision. The section further states that even if the sitting parliamentarian is expelled from the political party, they will still maintain their seat in the parliament.
During MP Saud’s anti-defection hearing, the government had sought to annul this clause as it contradicted with the Supreme Court’s ruling; however, late in August, the Supreme Court dismissed the case.
Therefore, the four parliamentarians’ legal team maintained that they have not lost their seats: “as long as the court does not annul this section of the Political Parties Act, it’s a law we have to enforce,” lawyer Hisaan Hussain had said.
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