Maldives top court reconstitutes bench ahead of verdict on disqualified dozen

Maldives apex court on Thursday reconstituted its bench ahead of its verdict on the constitutional dispute case filed at the country's top court by the Attorney General (AG) challenging the reinstatement of a dozen lawmakers.

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.

The Supreme Court’s decision had also overturned its previous ruling to provide a ‘temporary solution’ to the issue of floor-crossing and changing party membership of Parliamentarians until the Parliament enacts a law for the purpose.

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom on February 5 had declared state of emergency, purged the Supreme Court by arresting two judges and the remaining political leaders and ultimately had the order revoked.

Less than a day after the arrest of the two judges, the remaining three judges rescinded its ruling to release the political leaders referring to the concerns raised by president Yameen in the letters he had sent to the chief justice hours before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The top court however, had not rescinded the part of the order which quashed its anti-defection ruling ordering the country's electoral watchdog to re-instate the dozen government lawmakers disqualified over the ruling.

Attorney General had sought to annul the remaining part of the February 1 order which had been signed by the full top court bench.

The remaining three judge bench since February has asked the parliament to hold off on reinstating the dozen lawmakers until it decides on the case.

Following the new appointments to the Supreme Court, new chief justice Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi on Thursday had held a hearing to reconstitute the bench hearing the challenge to include the two new judges.

The AG's office had argued that the top court had no justifiable grounds to annul its original ruling on floor crossing saying that a Supreme Court's decision is the final word on any legal dispute.

A verdict on the hugely controversial case of the 12 lawmakers is now expected during the next hearing.

Meanwhile, the government controlled parliament in March had passed the anti-defection law largely devised to disqualify a dozen former government lawmakers.

The law had been revised to make it effective from July 13, 2017 - the same day the top court had issued its original anti-defection ruling.

According to the new law, lawmakers elected on party tickets would lose their respective seats if they quit, change or are dismissed from the party. However, the law would not apply to independent members if they sign for a particular party.

The law also does not apply to lawmakers for violating party whip-lines or are penalized by a party for disciplinary violations.