Maldives Top Court quashes EC u-turn on MP disqualifications

Maldives' apex court late Wednesday quashed the electoral body's decision to annul the disqualifications of a dozen former government lawmakers who had been disqualified over the contentious anti-defection ruling.

Elections Commission in August last year had disqualified the lawmakers who were dismissed from the ruling party under the contentious Supreme Court anti-defection ruling and had even announced by-elections to replace them.

The commission in a statement had said its members had reviewed its decision to disqualify the 12 lawmakers during a sit-down on Wednesday.

The members had decided that the Supreme Court ruling on anti-defection does not apply to the dozen MPs and annulled its original decision to disqualify them, the statement read.

However, the Supreme Court referred to the challenges filed by individual MPs which it said was still being heard by the court.

"No state institution has the authority or the jurisdiction to decide on a legal dispute being heard by the Supreme Court," the order read.

"So the decision by the Elections Commission to annul its original decision to disqualify the 12 parliamentarians."

The move came after the Supreme Court had vowed to settle the challenges filed by four of the 12 disqualified lawmakers.

Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) had officially removed the four rebel lawmakers from the party amid a struggle to regain its majority in parliament.

PPM had been devastated by a revolt after as many as 10 lawmakers backed an opposition led move to unseat the parliament speaker Abdulla Maseeh in March last year.

However, barring Dhidhdhoo lawmaker Abdul Latheef Mohamed, PPM had previously axed Thulusdhoo MP Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim, Maduvvaree MP Mohamed Ameeth and Villingili MP Saud Hussain after they publicly announced allegiance to deposed PPM leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

All four lawmakers have refused to accept EC's decision insisting that the Supreme Court ruling had been blatantly misinterpreted.

However, the Supreme Court in February had 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.

The Supreme Court had rescinded the remaining part of the February 1 order but said it would now hear the individual challenges filed by the disqualified lawmakers.

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 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.

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.