The Supreme Court has struck down amendments brought to the political parties law in 2013 that barred losers of primary elections from contesting as independent candidates.
The constitutionality of the provisions was challenged by former lawmaker Abdulla Jabir after he lost the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party’s primary for the Kaashidhoo constituency.
Jabir, a resort owner and special envoy of the president, was soundly defeated by a 35-point margin.
The Supreme Court ordered the Elections Commission to allow primary losers to submit candidacy papers until March 4. The deadline to contest in the upcoming parliamentary elections expired last week.
Despite the new deadline, the polls will take place as scheduled on April 6, EC chief Ahmed Shareef assured.
The ruling clears the way for more than 200 candidates who lost the MDP primaries to contest as independents. Some 279 candidates sought the MDP ticket to contest for 77 seats in nationwide internal elections held in early January.
Five sitting lawmakers – Ihavandhoo MP Mohamed Abdulla, Vaikaradhoo MP Mohamed Nazim, Henveiru South MP Mohamed Abdul Kareem ‘Rukuma,’ Central Hithadhoo MP Ibrahim Mohamed Didi and Hithadhoo South MP Ali Nizar – were defeated by challengers.
At her daily press briefing, MDP campaign spokeswoman Afshan Latheef expressed surprise over the Supreme Court ruling. The party will take action against members who challenge MDP candidates, she warned.
“Supreme Court is meddling in elections – again. Ruled candidates who lost primaries can nonetheless contest and have extended deadline for papers to be filed,” tweeted former president Mohamed Nasheed, the MDP’s leader and a candidate for parliament.
“This is judicial over-reach. Maldives has suffered terribly in past from judicial meddling in the democratic process.”
The opposition Progressive Party of Maldives-People’s National Congress alliance also held primaries in six constituencies earlier this month.
Last week, the opposition coalition threatened disciplinary action against party members who contest as independents. Members were also warned against contesting against candidates from other parties who have been endorsed by the PPM-PNC coalition.
The warning came after former home minister Azleen Ahmed and PPM MP Jameel Usman decided to contest as independents for the Hulhumalé and Gemanafushi constituencies.
The Adhaalath Party, part of the ruling coalition, also held a primary in late January to elect its candidate for the Inguraidhoo constituency.
With the four coalition parties unable to reach an agreement on jointly contesting, pro-government candidates will be competing against each other as well as independent and opposition candidates.
The EC last week accepted the candidacies of 395 contenders, including 360 men and 35 women.
– ‘Unconstitutional’ –
The prohibition against primary losers contesting was challenged on the grounds that it violated the constitutional right to run for public office and take part in political activity.
During hearings at the Supreme Court, state attorneys defended the disqualification rule.
The rule restricted the rights of individuals, they conceded, but argued it was done in accordance with article 16 of the constitution, which stipulates that a reasonable restriction on rights and freedoms can be prescribed in law “if demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”.
But lawyers representing Jabir and co-claimants Abdul Maaniu Hussain and Ahmed Mohamed argued that such limitations were imposed in democratic societies under established procedures.
But Maldivian law does not require political parties to hold primaries and there was no law governing internal elections, they noted.
In December, Jumhooree Party MP Abdul Latheef Mohamed submitted amendments to remove the prohibition from the political parties law. But the move was opposed by the MDP amid growing rifts with coalition partner JP.
Candidates who run against the party after a defeat in the primary are doing a huge disservice to the party electorate; risking party’s chances of taking the seat by splitting the vote. Candidates need to decide whether to contest on the party ticket or not, before the primaries. https://t.co/kJwCS9tOnI
— Eva Abdulla 🎈❓ (@evattey) December 12, 2018