The Edition


Council expiry draws near, as Parliament delays vote on constitutional amendment

31 May 2020, MVT 21:48
Speaker of Parliament and former President of Maldives Mohamed Nasheed addresses a session held amid the city-wide lockdown imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19. Nasheed resumed in-person meetings last week held at the Parliament building. PHOTO: PEOPLE'S MAJLIS
31 May 2020, MVT 21:48

Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Nasheed, on Saturday, postponed the vote on amending Article 231 of the Constitution of Maldives, to be held during the late hours of Monday.

Article 231 of the Constitution concerns the length of terms for elected councils. Elections for local councils were originally slated for April 14, however, voting was postponed indefinitely due to the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis.

Given that the terms of presently elected councils will expire on June 3, the Parliament’s Whole House Sub Committee moved to bring the matter to floor on Saturday.

However, opposition faction minority leader MP Ahmed Saleem refused to expedite the amendment.

Hence, the Parliament’s 1st Sitting for the 2nd Session of 2020 is scheduled to take place on June 1, 2330 hours. Voting is expected to commence in the early hours of June 2, less than 24 hours before council terms expire.

Attempt to stonewall

During Friday night’s extraordinary session, the Parliament’s Whole House Sub Committee passed a motion to amend Article 231 of the Constitution, as per the Supreme Court’s advisory ruling.

The motion was proposed by the parliamentary representative for Male’s Central Henveiru constituency, MP Ali Azim.

MP Azim submitted for the removal of the first article of the bill and the addition of two clauses.

The first clause consolidates the position of elected councils, in the event that their term expires before elections are held, until a new council is sworn in. The second ensures councils will retain the power to enact duties, under a transitional act passed by the parliament.

The act cited in the second clause is the sunset bill passed to postpone local council elections until the state of public health emergency is lifted, which was ratified on May 10.

During the discussions, PPM representative for Naifaru, Lhavyani Atoll constituency, Ahmed Shiyam claimed that the constitutional amendment would proceed in favour of the opposition, praising efforts made to consult with the Supreme Court.

The Speaker then cut MP Shiyam off, stating he found no intelligible reason for the Naifaru representative’s resistance, given that the period to submit amendments had expired.

The government-sponsored bill for the constitutional amendments was presented in April.

Several MDP-representatives countered by suggesting that the obstruction was fuelled by a refusal to overturn the 5-year sentence over money laundering currently being served by former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

Representative for the constituency of Naifaru, Lhaviyani Atoll and Vice President of PPM, MP Ahmed Shiyam speaks at an earlier session of the Parliament. PHOTO: PEOPLE'S MAJLIS

A Minor Hindrance

Whilst continuing to express hopes of reaching an agreement with the minority leader, Nasheed said that the PPM representatives stated their wish to follow regular procedures in lieu of a speedier decision, to the Parliament’s Secretary-General.

According to the Parliament’s Standing Orders, a debate on a report passed by a committee must be held within three days after it is received, granting the opportunity for MPs to submit amendments.

Although there is a provision to do so, as the Speaker and the leader of the minority group are not in agreement, the aforementioned process cannot be by-passed in this case.

Despite the opposition’s rebuke, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presently holds a supermajority of 65 seats. Constitutional amendments require the majority vote of three-fourths of the Parliament.

Referring to the above, the former president reiterated his confidence that the Parliament would complete its work to pass the amendment irrespective of the opposition coalition’s stance.

“We do not have an issue with numbers”, he said. 

Given the short notice, the amendment would also have to be ratified by the President within the same day.

Shifting Blame to MDP

The opposition coalition, made up of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the People’s National Congress (PNC), released a joint statement on Saturday, regarding delays in passing the constitutional amendment.

According to the statement, the blame for the present time constraints fell to “the parliamentary leadership and MDP representatives”.

It then declared that the bill did not meet the requirements stipulated in the Supreme Court’s advisory ruling.

Noting Article 93 and 94 of parliament regulations, the coalition held that the legislative solution advised by the Supreme Court could not be applied to said bill, and asserted that a new bill must be drafted.

Previously, on April 6, Speaker Nasheed had compared the ongoing ‘State of Public Health Emergency’ to a ‘State of Emergency’ declared by the President, casting doubt on whether constitutional amendments could be made.

However, with the Parliament’s legal team, as well as current Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath, clarifying that the same conditions did not apply to the present situation, the query was resolved by April 8.

The Apex Ruling

Nasheed also expressed further concern that the initial bill contradicted the conditions under which constitutional amendments may be presented.

With opinions remaining divided on the issue, the parliament then passed a motion to seek legal counsel from the Supreme Court on May 27.

Early Friday, the Supreme Court advised the parliament to amend the constitution by including a transitionary provision, as a solution for the legal void presented in extending the term for local councils due to the country’s present inability to hold elections over the ongoing health crisis.

Furthermore, in reference to concerns raised on whether changes may be brought to the constitution, the Supreme Court clarified that the ongoing ’State of Public Health Emergency’ was not subject to the same restrictions as a ‘State of Emergency’ declared by the incumbent President of Maldives.

The apex court further iterated that the power to amend the text of the constitution, in any way other than as defined in Chapter 12, was not granted to any governing body, legislative body or court.