The joint opposition parliamentary group rejected exiled Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim’s appeal to attend Wednesday’s vote on the president’s nominees to the Supreme Court.
JP MP Ali Hussain told the Maldives Independent that Gasim urged the party’s lawmakers “to just attend the [parliament] sitting, he didn’t ask us to vote in a particular way.”
“Our members here decided it is best to consult with the joint parliamentary group and then go if they decided to go as well. And they decided not to participate, as we knew they wouldn’t,” he said.
An MP of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, which makes up the group’s majority, said JP MPs abstained from the vote on deciding whether to attend.
But MPs decided it would be contrary to their year-long stance of not recognising the legitimacy of Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed.
Opposition lawmakers have been boycotting votes since the contentious disqualification of defectors from the ruling party was used to quash a majority-backed no-confidence motion against Maseeh in July last year.
The ruling coalition lacked the constitutional quorum needed to pass laws without opposition lawmakers. However, the Supreme Court ruled that laws can be passed in a “state of necessity” with less than half of lawmakers present.
Gasim’s appeal to attend the vote – which came amid an increasingly bitter row between the JP and coalition partner MDP over fielding a single candidate – prompted speculation of a deal with President Abdulla Yameen.
It came after MP Abdulla Khaleel, the ruling party’s secretary-general, urged Gasim to rejoin the ruling coalition “without any conditions” as he has been “betrayed” by the MDP.
“Of course, opposition members are approached all the time by the government with deals,” said Ali Hussain. “But Gasim has not made a deal. That’s absolutely false.”
The Supreme Court vacancies opened up after former chief justice Abdulla Saeed and justice Ali Hameed were removed last week when the reduced apex court bench refused to hear appeals against their convictions.
The Judges Act was controversially amended to automatically remove judges convicted of a criminal offence once the top court upholds a guilty verdict. The new rule circumvents the parliamentary vote called for by the constitution, which requires a two-thirds majority to approve a finding of gross incompetence or misconduct by the judicial watchdog.
In contrast, parliament can approve the president’s nominees to the bench with a simple majority of those present.
Saeed and Hameed’s lawyers have meanwhile appealed the court registrar’s rejection of their cases. “The justices will not lose their positions until a final and binding decision is made by the current SC bench,” lawyer Hisaan Hussain tweeted.
Ali Hussain also objected to the “retrospective application of the law” because the amendment was passed after the top judges were arrested in February.
“A decision by the Supreme Court registrar does not equal a verdict by the bench. How would we know that it’s the decision of the bench, especially in a matter involving the chief justice,” he said.
The Supreme Court must hold public hearings before ruling there are no grounds for appeal, he insisted.
“So for me, it’s not justifiable to participate in a proceeding like that, all the more while 12 members have been stripped of their seats and Maseeh continues to be the speaker,” he said.
The top judges were arrested shortly after President Yameen declared a state of emergency in response to the court’s order for the release of his jailed opponents, a shock ruling that was branded a “judicial coup” to remove him from office.
Wednesday’s confirmation process for their replacements lasted less than 24 hours. Yameen’s nominees were announced at a brief sitting in the afternoon and forwarded to a committee for evaluation.
Calling the vetting process an “absolute sham,” MDP MP Eva Abdulla said the oversight committee was “not even shown the new appointees’ CVs” before the nominees were sent back to the floor for a vote.
With only ruling coalition lawmakers present during a second sitting Wednesday night, the nominees were unanimously approved with 36 votes in favour from the 85-member house.
Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi was appointed the new chief justice at the president’s office Thursday morning. Former High Court Judges Abdul Ghanee Mohamed and Abdulla Didi were also sworn in at the ceremony.
The oath of office was administered before President Yameen by Justice Abdulla Areef.
Didi, a former deputy attorney general and parliament’s counsellor-general, becomes the third chief justice to be appointed since the Supreme Court was established in 2010. The country’s first chief justice, Ahmed Faiz Hussain, was removed in 2014.