Supreme court asked to restrict parliament’s powers to sack ministers

Supreme court asked to restrict parliament’s powers to sack ministers
May 15 08:14 2017

The Attorney General’s office has asked the supreme court to determine that the parliament can only dismiss cabinet ministers for committing an impeachable offence.

According to article 101 of the constitution, a no-confidence motion can be filed by at least ten lawmakers, “specifying the reasons,” and a minister shall cease to hold office if it is passed by a majority of the total membership of the People’s Majlis.

But state attorneys argued in the apex court Sunday that the parliament should not be able to sack ministers with a no-confidence motion submitted for political reasons.

“The power of the parliament to take a vote of no-confidence is not an absolute power,” a state attorney told the court, insisting that valid grounds or proof of an impeachable offence should be a prerequisite for the no-confidence vote.

The full bench of the supreme court is hearing the constitutional case.

Speaking at the ruling coalition’s nightly rallies in Malé hours after the first hearing, Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan declared that the opposition is planning to submit no-confidence motions against ministers “with the signatures of 10 or 12 MPs, to pester the government.”

He also accused the opposition of plotting to bring the state to a standstill.

A new alliance formed between opposition parties and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is trying to seize the parliament’s majority with defections from the divided ruling party.

After the alliance sought unsuccessfully to remove Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed in late March, the rules were changed to require a minimum of 42 signatures from the 85-member house to submit a no-confidence motion against the speaker or the deputy speaker.

Opposition lawmakers have said the government’s appeal to the supreme court amounts to an admission of President Abdulla Yameen losing the previously unassailable pro-government majority.

But Nihan, the parliamentary group leader of the Progressive Party of Maldives, said the ruling coalition remains strong with 51 members.

State attorneys meanwhile argued at court yesterday that removing ministers with no-confidence votes is a feature of parliamentary systems, which is incompatible with the Maldives’ presidential system.

The constitution states that the role of the parliament is to hold the cabinet accountable while ministers are directly answerable only to the president, they said.

In other countries with presidential systems and separation of powers such as the United States, ministers can only be removed through an impeachment process, the state attorney noted.

A similar impeachment process should be laid out in the Majlis rules or standing orders, she added, stressing that the vote can only be taken for valid reasons and if the offence is proven.

“If the opportunity is given for one power of the state to override another, the state would become weak and it would become hard for the state to carry out its functions,” she said.