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Maldives: The Supreme Court Strikes Again

Paper No. 5650                                     Dated 19-Feb-2014
 
By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan
 
I had mentioned many times before that the Judiciary in the Maldives is the weakest link in Maldives’ march to democracy.  This view is confirmed once again when the Supreme Court suo motu issued notices to the Election Commission members last week for contempt of court and disobedience of orders on an event that occurred four months ago! 
 
Stranger still, the Supreme Court is relying on evidence on responses made by the Election Committee members on the repeated postponement of Presidential elections in the People’s Majlis.  This is in violation of Article 90 of the Constitution that says that no person will be subject to any enquiry, arrest, detention or prosecution with respect to anything said in the people’s Majlis or any of its committees if such a statement is not contrary to tenets of Islam. This provision has specially been added to provide the Election Commission a constitutional guarantee without fear or favour and independent of other pillars of democracy.   
 
One should recall what Navi Pillai - UN Human Rights Commissioner said on the interference of the Judiciary in the Elections.  She said on 30th October- I quote “I am alarmed that the Supreme Court Maldives is interfering excessively in the presidential elections and in so doing is subverting the democratic process (emphasis mine) and violating the rights of Maldivians to freely elect their representatives.”
 
Presidential elections took place in November despite many hiccups and when the Election Commission was busy preparing the elections to the Majlis on 22nd March, the Supreme Court delivered a “googly” by issuing notices to the four members of the Election Commission to appear before them for contempt of court and disobedience.
 
This act of the Supreme Court is questionable on all grounds- on law, morals and the timing when more than three months have passed since the elections.  This prosecution is taking place after the Supreme Court suo motu framed regulations this month on 6th Feb that allowed the Apex Court to initiate hearings and act as both the complainant and the judge in the trial!
 
Worse still, the Court declared that no party has the authority to question or criticise its decision as per Article 145 ( c) of the constitution that states that the court shall be the final authority on the interpretation of the constitution, the law or any other matter dealt with by the court of law.
 
The case actually relates to the annulment of the first round of presidential elections held in September 2013 as well as disobeying a Supreme Court order by dissolving the eight political parties that could not muster enough members to be eligible to be recognised as a political party.  The order of the Supreme Court amounts to  “We are the Gods- Do not question us and if you do it, it will be at your peril, even on what you say in the parliament.”
 
The point to be noted is that the Supreme Court summoned the four members of the Election Commission on the 12th to an unannounced trial and case documents were given to the accused just a few minutes before the trial began!
 
The Defence Lawyer of the Election Commission made two major points 
 
1.  The court should specify the charges, the specific statements made - at which location, time and date that amounted to contempt of court.
 
2.  The Court should specify which of the commission’s actions constituted a disobedience of which order.  
 
Instead of responding directly to the submission, the Chief Justice is said to have asked the Defence lawyer Siraj to consider to the “ extent that he understood them.”  The Chief Justice appears to be an angry man.
 
Incidentally, four of the judges out of the five member bench, were involved in the decision to annul the first presidential election.  Of the four, one is Judge Ali Hameed is the one who has been implicated in a series of sex tapes!
 
The MDP has rightly accused the court of attempting to further subvert the authority of independent Election Commission in the run up to the Parliamentary elections.  
 
It looks that someone is instigating from behind, the Supreme Court to put pressure on the Election Commission who are already too busy in preparing the electoral rolls and to register afresh those who are in different places outside their place of residence.  It is not clear what the motive could be. 
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