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Maldives: Supreme Court Intervenes Again in Presidential Elections:

Paper No. 5601         Dated 12-Nov- 2013

By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan

It was a sad day for democracy in Maldives when the Supreme Court without much of a hearing or discussion of legal issues, annulled the resolution of Majlis ( Parliament) of the Speaker taking over the interim administration on 11th of November in the absence of an elected President and until a new incumbent is elected.

The procedure adopted was under Article 124 (a) of the constitution that says that "in the event of the absence of or temporary incapacity of both the President and the Vice President carry out the duties of office of the President, the duties shall be carried out in order of priority, by the Speaker of the People’s Majlis . . . etc."

This provision was clear and this was initiated as the President had announced his intention of "not staying a day more" as president ( though retracted subsequently) and referred to the Majlis for a solution.

Besides countermanding the resolution of the Majlis, the Supreme Court also ordered that the present government will continue if a new president is not elected by November 11. If the Supreme Court were to interpret or clarify any provision in the constitution, it would have been fine. But here the Supreme Court gives unilaterally firm directions as to how the government should run in the absence of the president or the vice president. It is no surprise either that President Waheed who swore that he will not remain in office even for a day, decided to continue as President till the run off elections on the 16th is over. If President Waheed was a man of principle, he would have resigned no matter what the Supreme Court had said ( unless he is subordinate to the Supreme Court), but for outsiders it all looked like being well orchestrated. The Vice President on the other hand resigned promptly before 11th November when his term ended in accordance with the constitution.

What is more, the Supreme Court, just two hours before the start of run off poll issued an order to all state institutions associated with the elections, that the poll will not take place on the 10th as decided earlier by the contending candidates in the presence of the president and that it would take place on 16 November. This instruction I understand was issued on the basis of a request of one of the losing candidates seeking more time for discussions and perusal of the voter’s list.

The Commonwealth considered the postponement as unreasonable and unacceptable. The US went a step further and said that the Supreme Court’s action in repeatedly and unduly interfering in the electoral process "subverts democracy" and taking the decision out of the hands of the people. The UN Representative Taranco described the developments as one that undermines the constitutional rights of people.

President Waheed himself protested over a reported statement of UNHC for Human Rights Navi Pillay who said on 30 October- " I am alarmed that the Supreme Court of Maldives is interfering excessively in the presidential elections and in so doing is subverting the democratic process and violating the right of Maldivians to freely elect their representatives." But was the president protesting too much when people in the country who are afraid to criticise the court for fear of being slapped with contempt proceedings by the Supreme Court and outsiders are aware of excessive overreach of the Supreme Court?

It was thought that besides his announcing his determination not to stay on beyond 11 November, President Waheed atoned for all his "inaction" by calling all the three contesting candidates for tea and persuading them to expedite the approval of the electoral lists and have the elections on the 9th of November. The three candidates themselves not only agreed to the date but also decided that if there is a run off, it would be held the next day ( as preparation of fresh lists, approval and transportation again would take a long time).

The first round on the 9th ( fifth attempt) was conducted peacefully though the voter turnout was not as high as the previous one. The result was that Nasheed of MDP obtained 96.747 votes amounting to 46.93 of the votes, with Abdulla Yameen of PPM getting 61,295 votes ( 29.73 percent) and Gasim Ibrahim of Jhumhorree obtaining 48131 votes ( 24.07). While Nasheed maintained almost the same number of votes, it was Gasim who lost about 2291 votes and Yameen gained probably of the votes that went to president Waheed’s coalition. A run off was thus necessitated as no candidate got more than fifty percent of the votes.

Even before the election results were announced, Yameen of PPM, backtracked from the joint decision of the three candidates and declared that he will not let the run off to the elections to take place the next day and would need at least forty-eight hours to go through the electoral lists. He also wanted time to discuss for a fresh coalition in the run off.

As expected, when the run off to the elections did not take place on the 10th on the direction of the Supreme Court there were extensive protests in Male the whole night and till 4:00 A.M. next morning with stone pelting, police barricades being set fire to and many protesters hit, bloodied and arrested. Fortunately, the situation was brought under control, though the Police over reacted in certain places.

Hopefully, the run off to the Presidential elections should take place this Saturday 16th, if the Supreme Court does not interfere again, the veto power given to candidate Yameen is not used and the electoral lists signed well before 16th.

One will have to wait and see and it looks that nothing can be taken for granted in Maldives right now. We cannot also assume that the winning candidate will take over the presidentship the next day, as the Supreme Court will have to be satisfied first.