Attorney General Mohamed Anil has asked the Supreme Court to declare that MPs who leave their party, joins another party or is expelled from the party will lose their seat.
A first hearing took place Monday afternoon after the constitutional case was abruptly put on the apex court’s agenda in the morning.
It comes after ten ruling party lawmakers joined the opposition alliance to seek the removal of Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed. A no-confidence motion was submitted last week with 45 signatures from the 85-member house, signalling the collapse of President Abdulla Yameen’s previously unassailable pro-government majority.
Eight of the ten defectors have quit the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives in recent days amid rumours of the AG planning to seek a Supreme Court ruling to scuttle the July 24 no-confidence vote.
AG Anil reportedly told the court that MPs who switch parties after contesting on a party ticket break their social contract with voters and abandon the ideology that their constituents backed. MPs crossing the floor is an undemocratic practice that poses a threat to independence and sovereignty as lawmakers become subject to external influences, he contended.
MPs are stripped of their seats in India, Singapore, Bangladesh, and England if they switch parties, he noted.
Anil also accused the opposition of seeking to oust President Yameen on numerous occasions, including the 2015 May Day mass protest, the September 2015 blast on the president’s speedboat, and an attempt to arrest the president with a fake warrant.
It is unclear if the ruling sought by the AG would apply retroactively.
Nine MPs from the Jumhooree Party, four from the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, and four independent MPs had switched to the PPM after the March 2014 parliamentary elections.
The PPM won 33 seats but went on to increase its parliamentary group to 48 by the end of 2016.
The Supreme Court case has sparked an exodus from the PPM with MPs Abdulla Sinan, Saudhulla Hilmy, Abdulla Ahmed, and Ahmed Thoriq announcing their resignations.
MPs Saud Hussain and Mohamed Musthafa, two lawmakers from former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s faction of the PPM, also left the party on Monday after the Supreme Court hearing.
Three PPM MPs who sided with Gayoom in the party’s leadership dispute – including his son MP Faris Maumoon – were previously expelled by the party’s disciplinary committee. The PPM was split into rival factions when Gayoom lost a bitter struggle with his half-brother Yameen for control of the party.
In late May, the supreme court also declared itself the final authority to determine the validity of the parliament’s removal of the president, vice president, ministers, judges, auditor general, prosecutor general and members of independent institutions.
The parliament’s removal of the senior officials will only stand after the court rules on the legitimacy of the no-confidence vote or the impeachment process. The controversial judgment came after the AG office asked the apex court to establish that the parliament can only dismiss cabinet ministers for committing an impeachable offence.
Opposition figures condemned the judgment as an unconstitutional abrogation of parliamentary powers. Several opposition lawmakers and prominent lawyers referred to article 87(b), which states, “Unless otherwise specified in this constitution, the validity of any proceedings in the People’s Majlis shall not be questioned in any court of law.”
Seeking the ruling against floor crossing today, the AG asked the court to interpret Articles 26(c) and 30(a), which assures the rights to take part in public affairs and participate in political parties, as well as Articles 74 and 75, which state that the supreme court shall determine questions concerning the qualifications or removal of lawmakers.
Article 75 requires that MPs “should be guided in their actions by considerations of national interest and public welfare foremost, and should not exploit their official positions in any way for their own benefit or for the benefit of those with whom they have special relations.”