The Elections Commission has declared that four lawmakers have lost their seats as a consequence of the Supreme Court’s controversial anti-defection ruling, triggering by-elections in the four constituencies.
The apex court ruled last Thursday that MPs who were elected on political party tickets will lose their seats once the electoral body notifies parliament that they have either left their party, been expelled, or switched parties.
MPs Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim, Mohamed Ameeth, Saud Hussain, and Abdul Latheef Mohamed were disqualified after the EC informed the parliament secretariat Tuesday of their expulsion from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives, the commission said in a statement.
The disqualified lawmakers will be able to contest the by-elections, which must take place within two months.
The announcement comes after President Abdulla Yameen reportedly declared at an emergency meeting of the PPM council Tuesday night that the July 24 no-confidence vote against the speaker will be cancelled after the renegade MPs are stripped of their seats.
According to unnamed council members who spoke to newspaper Mihaaru, Yameen said the omission of their signatures will invalidate the opposition-led motion as the number of lawmakers backing Speaker Abdulla Maseeh’s impeachment will fall below 42, the minimum number required to submit a no-confidence motion.
MP Ameeth, who represents the Maduvvari constituency in Raa atoll, told the Maldives Independent shortly before the EC announcement that he did not believe he would lose his seat.
“This is because my decision to quit the party was announced days before the Supreme Court ruling,” he said.
“Firstly, the ruling itself states that it will not apply to past events. I sent my resignation letter to the Elections Commission on July 10. I repeatedly informed the PPM of my decision to quit the party before the court ruling was delivered. Secondly, the constitution specifies the circumstances under which an MP will lose his seat. I have not contravened either the constitution or the court ruling.”
Ameeth said he would challenge his dismissal at the Supreme Court, “if that is what it takes to get justice in this country.” The constitution authorises the Supreme Court to determine questions regarding the removal and qualification of lawmakers.
Along with Ameeth, MPs Waheed and Saud were expelled from the PPM in late March and early April after taking former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s side in an acrimonious leadership dispute with his half-brother Yameen.
The PPM was split into rival factions after the elder Gayoom was stripped of his powers as the party’s elected leader in October last year. The 79-year-old went on to sign a pact with opposition leaders and sought to seize the parliament’s majority with defections from the divided ruling party.
MP Abdul Latheef Mohamed, who represents the Dhidhoo constituency in Haa Alif, was among ten MPs who signed the no-confidence motion and left the PPM before the Supreme Court issued the anti-defection ruling.
However, the PPM secretariat refused to accept their resignation letters, citing ongoing inquiries by its ethics committee.
It is unclear why the EC deemed Latheef’s seat vacant as he was elected as an independent.
The Supreme Court meanwhile issued an order Sunday night clarifying that the anti-defection ruling “cannot be enforced retrospectively” if any of the three conditions for disqualification or related procedures arose before July 13.
But Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan told reporters after the PPM council meeting that lawmakers who left or were expelled are counted as PPM MPs until the EC formally notifies the Majlis.
“The procedure for a parliament member quitting the party is different from an ordinary member,” said Nihan, the PPM’s parliamentary group leader.
The Attorney General sought the anti-defection ruling from the Supreme Court on the day the opposition alliance filed the no-confidence motion with 45 signatures, signalling the collapse of the previously unassailable pro-government majority.
Ahmed Mohamed, the parliament’s secretary-general, told the Maldives Independent that contrary to media reports, the no-confidence motion is not on the agenda for Monday’s sitting.
However, according to the Majlis rules, the motion must be tabled in the agenda of the next sitting after MPs are notified within three days of submission and the speaker is given 10 days to prepare his defence.
On Wednesday morning, the parliament’s general affairs committee also cancelled a meeting scheduled to allocate debate time for the no-confidence motion.
Parliament sittings have been suspended since the motion was submitted on July 3. Three opposition lawmakers are meanwhile standing trial, including Gayoom’s son, MP Faris Maumoon, who has been detained on bribery charges.