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Parliament approves legal changes punishing lawmakers and judges



Parliament on Tuesday approved controversial legal changes to punish lawmakers who defect and sack judges convicted of criminal offences.

The anti-defection bill, which penalises floor crossing, was passed with the votes of 36 MPs while an amendment bill to the Judges Act was passed with 38 votes. Both bills were proposed by the ruling party.

Only 39 out of the total 85 MPs were present for the sitting, which was boycotted by the opposition coalition.

The bills, proposed on March 5, were rushed through the parliamentary committee stage. The anti-defection bill is backdated to July 13 last year, when a Supreme Court ruling stripped a dozen opposition MPs of their seats.

The bill penalises floor crossing for MPs elected through a party ticket. It allows independent MPs to join a political party, after which the penalty would apply.

Changes to the Judges Act mean that judges convicted of a criminal offence can be removed from office, without parliament’s involvement, after the appeal process has been completed.

The opposition, citing the constitution, says only parliament has the power to remove judges even if they are convicted.

Opposition lawmakers, who are boycotting parliament amid the ongoing state of emergency, have challenged the legality of Tuesday’s votes as the ruling coalition lacked the constitutional quorum needed to pass laws.

More than half the 85-member house must be present for voting on “any matter requiring compliance by citizens”.

President Abdulla Yameen declared the state of emergency after the Supreme Court unanimously ordered the release of nine prisoners and the reinstatement of 12 opposition MPs.

The dozen ex-ruling party MPs were contentiously disqualified last year after the Supreme Court ruled that MPs elected on political party tickets would lose their seat if they left their party, got expelled, or switched parties.

The attorney general sought the anti-defection ruling on the day the opposition coalition secured a clear majority and tried to impeach the parliament speaker.

But the removal of MPs who crossed over to the opposition was used to quash the no-confidence motion and restore a smaller pro-government majority.

In its landmark February 1 order, the Supreme Court had cited parliament’s failure to enact a new law dealing with floor crossing for the court’s decision to overturn its earlier anti-defection ruling.

Following the arrest of Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Justice Ali Hameed on charges of plotting a coup, the three remaining justices have delayed the reinstatement of the lawmakers and soldiers have blocked them from entering the house of parliament.