The Supreme Court has overruled the Elections Commission’s reinstatement of a dozen former ruling party lawmakers who were stripped of their seats for crossing the floor.
After reviewing its previous decision to consider the 12 seats vacant, the EC on Wednesday reversed its decision to hold by-elections, effectively clearing the way for parliament to resume with an opposition majority.
But in an order issued Wednesday night, the Supreme Court quashed the EC’s decision and declared that any parliamentary vote with the 12 MPs would be invalid and unconstitutional.
The apex court is hearing cases filed by the lawmakers contesting their removal, it noted.
Until judgments are delivered, the EC does not have the authority to make decisions on their status, the order stated, as the constitution says the Supreme Court must settle disputes concerning “the removal, or vacating of seats, of a member of the People’s Majlis.”
Debates and decisions on the dispute also amount to illegal interference, it added, citing the constitutional provision that prohibits interference or influence over the courts.
The constitution also requires by-elections within two months to fill vacant seats.
But the Supreme Court has failed to resolve the dispute over the unseated lawmakers while their 60,000 constituents have been deprived of representation in parliament for more than a year.
The lawmakers were deemed to have lost their seats in July 2017 after they backed the impeachment of Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed, a key ally of the president.
Their defection realigned the parliament majority in the opposition’s favour.
The lawmakers challenged their removal but the court has yet to rule on the cases.
Hearings began in August last year.
On February 1, the Supreme Court reinstated the 12 lawmakers in a shock ruling that also ordered the release of nine political prisoners.
But President Abdulla Yameen reacted by declaring a state of emergency and arresting two Supreme Court justices, including the chief justice, both of whom were later convicted and removed from the bench.
Citing the decision, the 12 MPs tried to attend sittings but soldiers and police officers continued to bar their entry to the parliament house.
After more than a year, the apex court this week wrapped up hearings in appeals filed by four of the lawmakers.
Following the EC decision earlier on Wednesday afternoon, the joint opposition called on Speaker Maseeh to resign and declared their intention to repeal an anti-defection law passed in March.
It was among several controversial pieces of legislation pushed through by the ruling party despite the lack of the constitutional quorum of 43 MPs needed to pass laws. A “state of necessity” was invoked to override the requirement.
The third legislative session of the year began in late August but the speaker has yet to schedule any sittings.