The Supreme Court began hearing appeals Tuesday from four former ruling party lawmakers who were contentiously stripped of their seats.
Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim, Saud Hussain, Mohamed Ameeth and Abdul Latheef Mohamed were deemed to have lost their seats after the Supreme Court ruled that MPs who were elected on political party tickets will be disqualified once the Elections Commission notifies parliament that they have either left their party, been expelled, or switched parties.
But the state attorney maintained that the MPs remained on the PPM’s registry at the Elections Commission until the party formally requested their removal on July 18.
The anti-defection ruling applies once the EC informs parliament about a lawmaker’s change of status, she said.
In the hearing of MP Waheed’s appeal Tuesday morning, his lawyer Hisaan Hussain stressed that the PPM’s ethics committee had informed the Thulusdhoo MP in writing of his dismissal on March 18.
The dismissal letter was also copied to the EC, she noted, adding that Waheed himself then asked the commission to remove his name from the PPM registry.
The Supreme Court’s order about the ruling also made it clear that it would not apply if the conditions for disqualification arose in the past, Hisaan said.
According to the PPM’s charter or governing statutes, a member who is expelled by the ethics committee can contest the decision within 15 days at the appeals committee. Waheed’s decision not to appeal showed his intention of leaving the party, Hisaan said.
“The party cannot forcefully keep him as a member and take action against him. According to the AG, the latest action was taken on 17th July, how can you remove a member twice?” she asked.
In response, State Attorney Maasha Luthfy said that the March 28 letter copied to the EC did not explicitly request the removal of Waheed’s name from the registry.
She said the PPM only asked the commission to remove Waheed on July 18 for refusing to withdraw his signature from a no-confidence motion against the speaker of parliament, a circumstance that arose after the anti-defection ruling.
“You can’t kill a man twice. Anyone in their senses would know this,” Waheed exclaimed after the state attorney’s argument.
On Wednesday, the apex court also heard appeals from Saud Hussain, Mohamed Ameeth and Abdul Latheef Mohamed.
The latter was elected as an independent but the state attorney insisted that he was in the PPM’s register until the party informed the commission of his dismissal on July 18.
Exempting independent lawmakers would defeat the purpose of the anti-defection ruling, she contended.
Latheef’s lawyer pointed out that the MP for Dhidhoo had asked the EC to remove his name from the registry on July 11 because the PPM failed to acknowledge his resignation letter.
However, the state attorney insisted that Latheef was also expelled on July 18 for refusing to withdraw his signature from the no-confidence motion.
During MP Saud’s appeal, the Attorney General’s office meanwhile asked the apex court to strike down a provision in the 2013 Political Parties Act, which states that elected representatives will remain in office despite their dismissal from a political party on ethical grounds.
The provision should be abolished because it conflicts with the anti-defection ruling, the state attorney told the court.
A full bench comprised of all five Supreme Court Justices are presiding over the appeals. According to the constitution, only the apex court can determine questions concerning the qualifications and removal of lawmakers.
MPs Waheed, Ameeth and Saud were brought to the hearings from the police detention centre on the nearby island of Dhoonidhoo. They were arrested and detained for 15 days for entering the parliament building on July 24 after the Majlis had declared that they were no longer members of parliament.
The Supreme Court accepted their requests to overturn the EC’s declarations on the same day.
On Wednesday afternoon, hours after the Supreme Court concluding hearings on his appeal, the criminal court meanwhile extended Waheed’s remand detention by four more days.
Waheed, Ameeth and Saud were previously expelled from the PPM in late March and early April after taking former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s side in an acrimonious leadership dispute with his half-brother President Abdulla Yameen.
The PPM was split into rival factions after the elder Gayoom was stripped of his powers as the party’s elected leader in October last year. The 79-year-old went on to sign a pact with opposition leaders and sought to seize the parliament’s majority.
The Attorney General sought the anti-defection ruling after the four-party opposition coalition secured a majority in parliament with defections from the ruling party.
In the days after the ruling, teams comprised of senior PPM MPs and ministers meanwhile made campaign visits to the constituencies of the four disqualified lawmakers.
After declaring their seats vacant, the Elections Commission also decided to hold by-elections but have yet to announce poll dates.
Aside from the four MPs contesting their disqualification, MPs Abdulla Sinan and Ilham Ahmed were also deemed to have been stripped of their seats after their expulsion from the PPM in late July.
The pair was among ten renegade MPs who left the PPM after signing the opposition-led no-confidence motion against Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed.