Maldives top court backs parliament vote on emergency state

Maldives top court late Monday backed the contentious parliament vote to extend the state of emergency in the archipelago ruling that there were no question marks surrounding the quorum.

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, purged the Supreme Court by arresting two judges and the remaining political leaders and ultimately had the order revoked.

As the state of emergency expired on Tuesday, president Yameen had got the parliament contentiously extend it by another 30 days.

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.

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.

After issuing a temporary ruling ordering the authorities to follow the parliament vote, the apex court late Monday said the parliament vote had met the constitutionally mandated quorum as per Article 86 of the constitution.

The interpretation backed unanimously by the remaining three judges of the top court further said the state of emergency has not been specified in the constitution nor the parliament rules of procedure as a matter requiring compliance by citizens and hence 25 percent of the parliament members would suffice to extend the emergency state.

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.