The Supreme Court (SC), on Friday, declared that the power to amend the text of the constitution, in any way other than as defined in Chapter 12, is not granted to any governing body, legislative body or court.
The apex court then 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.
Although local council elections were originally slated for April 4, voting was indefinitely postponed over the ongoing global COVID19 pandemic. Hence, a government-sponsored bill was proposed to extend council terms until elections can be held.
At present, Article 231 of the constitution clearly states, “terms of councils elected to administer the constituencies shall not exceed three years”. Hence, the current term of elected councils is set to expire on June 3, Wednesday.
With opinions divided on the issue, the parliament passed a motion to seek legal counsel from the Supreme Court on May 27.
Even if the bill proposed by the government came to pass, in its present form, the terms of councils would not be affected.
This is because Article 266 of the Consitution defines the way in which amendments can be made, that is, a bill must propose amendments to an operative section within the constitution. Section four of the fifth amendment, to which the bill proposed amendments, does not fall within the said definition.
Therefore, the apex court recommends that a clear amendment be made to Article 231, adding that should the parliament decide against making a temporary amendment to the constitution, then it may instead opt to add a transitionary provision.
Referring 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.
Article 267 of the Constitution stipulates that, "No amendment shall be made to any provision of the Constitution during the existence of a state of emergency".
Given that the ‘State of Public Health Emergency’ was declared by the Health Ministry under the ‘Public Health Protection Act’ and the act follows the implementation of the Constitution of Maldives (2008), there are no barriers preventing the parliament from enacting its right to amend laws.