The Supreme Court has granted an anti-defection ruling sought by the Attorney General to strip MPs of their seats if they cross the floor.
Delivering a three-judge panel’s unanimous decision Thursday evening, Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed declared that MPs will lose their seats if they either switch parties, quit or is expelled after winning on a political party ticket.
The apex court ordered state institutions to enforce the new rule with effect from July 13 until parliament enacts an anti-defection law, exempting MPs who switched parties after the March 2014 parliamentary elections to hand the ruling party a clear majority.
AG Mohamed Anil asked the court to interpret the constitution on the question of floor crossing last week after the collapse of President Abdulla Yameen’s majority. The ex parte case was filed on the same day the opposition alliance submitted a second no-confidence motion against the speaker with the backing of several ruling party lawmakers.
Ten MPs who signed the motion have since left the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives, but the party’s secretariat has refused to accept their resignation citing ongoing inquiries by its ethics committee.
According to the Supreme Court ruling, MPs will lose their seat once the Elections Commission informs parliament of their change of status. The disqualified lawmaker will be able to contest the by-election triggered by the vacancy.
Outlining eleven points noted in the judgement, the chief justice said MPs switching parties out of self-interest undermines multi-party democracy and poses a threat to sovereignty and rule of law. He cited an anti-defection constitutional amendment in India as well as the right to recall elected representatives in some American states.
Other countries with anti-defection laws include Singapore, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Seychelles, Nepal and Bangladesh, he said, and suggested that party switching is not illegal in Western European democracies because it is rare and usually leads to resignation.
The “phenomena of party switching should be immediately prohibited by law”, he said.
Citing Islamic legal principles on peace and security in light of a constitutional provision that requires judges to consider Islamic Shariah “when deciding matters on which the constitution or the law is silent”, the chief justice said the apex court believes it has the authority to resolve the problems raised by the attorney general.
Thursday’s judgement came at a hearing scheduled on short notice after several opposition lawmakers and lawyers filed third party interventions.
At a press conference Wednesday night, Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim and other lawmakers had urged the Supreme Court not to grant the “unconstitutional” ruling.
Minority Leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih stressed that the constitution limits the Supreme Court’s authority over lawmakers to determining questions concerning their qualification or removal.
According to the constitution, an MP will be disqualified if he is sentenced to more than a year in prison, has a decreed debt, or becomes a member of the judiciary.
Opposition lawmakers say the court cannot impose a new condition that could disqualify MPs for defying a whip-line as the constitution also grants MPs immunity from prosecution in relation to their votes or work in the Majlis.
The joint parliamentary group of the ruling coalition meanwhile declared support for the expected Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday. Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan said an anti-defection law is long overdue to address corruption and bribery.