Maldives top court keeps state of emergency temporarily in effect

Maldives top court late Wednesday temporarily put the state of emergency in effect until it can conclusively decide on the constitutional question marks surrounding the parliament vote to extend the state of emergency.

The island nation has been embroiled in fresh political turmoil after the Supreme Court on February 1 ordered the immediate release of jailed political leaders including self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed.

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom on February 5 had declared a 15 day state of emergency after his last ditch attempt to convince the top court to revoke the order failed as the apex court rejected the government's 'legal and judicial' concerns over the order.

As the state of emergency was set to expire on Tuesday, president Yameen had the day before sought parliamentary approval to stretch the emergency for 45 days.

However, the united opposition lawmakers had boycotted the extraordinary sitting on Monday leaving the ruling party short on the constitutionally mandated number of MPs to go for a vote.

After efforts to convince some of the opposition MPs to attend Tuesday's sitting failed, the parliament with only 38 government MPs voted to extend the state of emergency.

According to Article 87 (b) of the constitution, a parliament vote on any matter requiring compliance by citizens shall only be undertaken when more than half of the total membership of the parliament are present at the sitting at which the matter is voted upon.

The number is well short of the minimum 43 specified by the constitution. Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed before the vote had announced that only 20 votes in favour would be needed to extend the emergency. His argument was that the parliament rules of procedure does not specify a state of emergency as something that requires the compliance of citizens.

However, in a bid to address the confusion, the parliament had also voted to ask the Supreme Court for an interpretation of the Article on the constitutionally mandated quorum for the vote.

The apex court late Wednesday, issued a temporary ruling ordering the authorities to follow the parliament vote until it can interpret the constitutional article as requested by the parliament.

The temporary ruling comes after the opposition along with top lawyers in the country argued that the lack of quorum at the parliament would mean that the state of emergency would no longer be in effect. The united opposition has also called for the immediate release of all detainees arrested since the emergency state was declared.

The constitutional question mark surrounding the extended state of emergency has also reportedly divided even the government's legal advisers including the chief prosecutor and senior lawyers of the Attorney General's (AG) office.

President Yameen has used the rights suspended under emergency state to crackdown hard on the opposition as police have made a series of high profile arrests including former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, three lawmakers, chief justice Abdulla Saeed, top court judge Ali Hameed and the chief judicial administrator.

Less than a day after the arrest of the two judges, the remaining three judges rescinded its ruling to release the political leaders referring to the concerns raised by president Yameen in the letters he had sent to the chief justice hours before state of emergency was declared.

The accusations against Gayoom included bribing lawmakers and judges to influence their authority while the deposed ruling party leader has also been accused of creating discord within the security forces to back the overthrow of his half-brother's government.

The two top court judges are accused of accepting bribes to influence Supreme Court rulings, abuse of power and blocking the functioning of the entire justice system.

In addition to Nasheed, the other top political leaders named in the now rescinded order included Jumhoory Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim, religiously conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla, former defence minister Mohamed Nazim, former vice president Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Ghafoor and Gayoom's lawmaker son Faris Maumoon.

Former prosecutor general Muhthaz Muhsin, magistrate Ahmed Nihan and Adheeb's uncle Hamid Ismail make up the rest of the list.