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Elections Commission in U-turn over unseated lawmakers

The Supreme Court wrapped up hearings on the disqualification of MPs Abdulla and Sinan.



The Elections Commission on Thursday changed its tune on 12 lawmakers who were deemed to have lost their seats for crossing the floor.

Lawyers representing the electoral body told the Supreme Court it has reverted to its original stand to consider the 12 seats vacant, a week after reversing last year’s decisions to hold by-elections.

The U-turn came at separate hearings on the EC’s disqualification of MPs Abdulla Ahmed and Abdulla Sinan.

Pressed by Chief Justice Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi for reasons, the EC lawyer cited the Supreme Court’s order last week to quash the commission’s decision to reinstate the lawmakers.

As the court was hearing cases from the lawmakers contesting their removal, the EC does not have the authority to make decisions on their status until judgments were delivered, the order stated.

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that its July 2017 anti-defection ruling was misapplied by the EC to unseat the former ruling party lawmakers.

The apex court reinstated four out of the 12 lawmakers, resolving the dispute over their removal after more than a year.

On Thursday, the court wrapped up the cases of MPs Abdulla and Sinan and announced that judgments will be delivered soon.

– Point of departure –

The debate at Thursday’s hearings focused on when a member could be considered to have left the ruing Progressive Party of Maldives.

According to the anti-defection ruling ruling, MPs who were elected on political party tickets will be disqualified once the EC notifies parliament that they have either left their party, been expelled, or switched parties.

The ruling could not be applied retroactively, the court stressed.

MPs Abdulla and Sinan were among ten renegade MPs who resigned from the PPM after the Attorney General sought a Supreme Court ruling that would strip MPs of their seats if they cross the floor.

They submitted resignation letters to the PPM and sent copies to the EC before the anti-defection ruling was issued on July 13, 2017.

But EC lawyers argued that they remained PPM members until their names were removed the registry maintained by the commission.

The PPM asked the EC to remove Abdulla from its registry on August 30 after taking disciplinary action for signing a no-confidence motion against the speaker.

The MP for Thinadhoo North lost his seat when the EC removed his name on September 5 and informed parliament, the EC lawyer told the court.

But lawyers representing the disqualified lawmakers referred to the Supreme Court’s precedent in reinstating four lawmakers last week.

The ruling stated that membership is relinquished once the party is informed of a member’s decision to leave.

At the hearing of Sinan’s case, the EC lawyer said the PPM’s statutes conflicted with the political party law on the question of membership.

The PPM rules state that membership is lost once the party is informed of resignation. But the political party law specifies a 14-day period to petition the EC if the party refuses to remove a person’s membership.

The EC acknowledged letters sent by the MPs requesting their removal. But the request was not granted because the MPs did not wait two weeks after resignation letters were submitted to the PPM.

Sinan’s lawyer Ibrahim Riffath argued the EC was not compelled to observe the 14-day period.

The Supreme Court justices also questioned EC lawyers whether the 14 days was a deadline or a grace period.

They also asked whether the EC considered removing a member from its registry the same as removing a person from the party.

“When political parties are given funds, we refer to the party’s membership. For that we use the membership registry to see who is a member and who is not,” the EC lawyer responded. “We cannot refer to one thing for one matter and another thing for another matter.”

– Justice delayed –

The dozen former ruling party lawmakers were deemed to have lost their seats when they backed the speaker’s impeachment in July last year.

Their defection realigned the parliament majority in favour of the opposition.

But their contentious disqualification by the EC was used to quash the no-confidence motion and restore the pro-government majority.

The constitution says the Supreme Court is the final authority on disputes concerning “the removal, or vacating of seats, of a member of the People’s Majlis.”

With the apex court unable to reach a judgment since hearings began in August last year, 60,000 constituents were deprived of representation in parliament for more than a year.

The 12 MPs insisted they remained lawmakers until the court says otherwise, but soldiers and police officers barred their entry to the parliament house.

The four reinstated lawmakers have now been granted access.

The opposition will regain a clear majority if the Supreme Court reinstates the other eight lawmakers.