The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the Progressive Party of Maldives’ extraordinary congress held days after former president Abdulla Yameen’s election defeat in September was legitimate.
It upheld the High Court’s annulment of the Elections Commission’s refusal to recognise decisions approved at the congress, including the election of Yameen as the PPM president along with new deputies and an executive council.
Delivering the judgment by the apex court’s full bench, Chief Justice Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi reportedly dismissed the EC’s grounds for rejecting the congress, which included non-members acting as delegations and failure to observe a requirement for ballots to be cast at a voting booth as a box was carried each delegate.
The electoral body was unable to say which non-members voted as delegates and the PPM statutes did not require the ballot box to be kept in a specific place, he noted. The purpose of the voting rules was served if secrecy of the ballot was ensured, he added.
The election of four deputy leaders despite an announcement to elect three was not sufficient grounds for refusing to recognise the congress, the chief justice said.
The top court’s judgment was a blow to former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s bid to regain control of the PPM.
“God willing, this resolve won’t be shaken. This courage will not flag,” he tweeted after the ruling.
The Supreme Court is also hearing a separate case over a 2016 civil court decision that stripped Gayoom of his role as the party’s elected leader. The court is due to decide whether the civil court has jurisdiction to hear a case filed by a PPM seeking an order to return the party’s presidency to Gayoom.
The PPM was split into rival factions when Gayoom was stripped of his leadership role by the civil court, which ordered Yameen – who previously held a ceremonial role as the party’s chief advisor – to resume council meetings under his leadership.
The council promptly put the president in charge of the party.
But Gayoom insisted he remains the PPM’s leader and went on to join forces with opposition parties to defeat Yameen at the September 23 presidential election.
The PPM took nearly two years to implement the part of the 2016 civil court order to hold a national congress.
The hastily-arranged congress in late September was widely seen as a move to avert a likely challenge by Gayoom to reclaim leadership.
Last month, lawmakers and loyalists of former president Yameen meanwhile decided to leave the PPM and form a new party, anticipating an unfavourable ruling from the Supreme Court over the PPM’s leadership dispute.
The People’s National Congress held its inaugural meeting last Sunday amid uncertainty over completing formal registration in time to field candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections.
On Wednesday, an obstacle for the PNC’s registration was removed when a committee formed by the Elections Commission decided that the use of the PPM’s resources did not warrant rescinding authorisation to form the new party.
Revisions to the political party regulations to prohibit the use of staff and resources of an existing party to form a new party came into force on Thursday. But the new rules cannot be applied to the PNC’s case as it was authorised to proceed with the registration process last month, the committee decided.