AG’s election intervention constitutional, yet morally questionable: senior legal source

Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukoor’s intervention in a Supreme Court case against the Elections Commission (EC) is constitutional, despite questions over the “moral grounds” for her involvement, a senior legal expert with experience working in government has said.

AG Azima last week intervened in a Supreme Court case filed by the Jumhooree Party (JP) seeking the annulment of the September 7 presidential election.

While the AG herself is not reported to be seeking an annulment of the first round of voting, she has asked the country’s apex court to order the prosecutor general and the police to investigate alleged electoral fraud after noting “serious issues”.

With no constitutional clause requiring the the AG’s involvement in the case, the intervention was made at the personal discretion of Azima, according to the confidential legal source.

The first round of voting has been met with unanimous confidence from local NGOs and international election observers over the credibility of the polls, amidst calls for the the second round of voting to proceed as scheduled.

The run-off vote is presently scheduled to be contested on September 28, between former President Mohamed Nasheed of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and second placed candidate Abdulla Yameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

“Public interest”

The source – who has served in a senior legal capacity under the last two governments – maintained that the AG was entitled to enter a case she personally deemed to be in the “public interest”.

However, with Azima representing the government, whose incumbent President Dr Mohamed Waheed secured five per cent of the vote in the first round of polls, the legal source said some of his peers were questioning the AG’s mandate to seemingly take sides in the JP’s case.

“Having spoken with other lawyers, how would the AG, who represents a candidate with only five percent of the public vote, decide what is in the public interest [in regards to the election case]? The AG can decide what is in the public interest, but I do not believe she has sufficient moral grounds to do so [with this case],” the source argued.

The same source added that the AG’s role in the ongoing Supreme Court case was complicated by the Maldives’ present lack of general rules or legislation regulating issues such as conflict of interest and similar ethical issues within the court system.

“Problem with the AG is that she is currently the authority on ethics of other lawyers and when to reprimand them,” the legal figure added. “We also lack a legal and judicial culture to really appreciate the idea of professional ethics.”

“No comment”

Rather than appearing to back the grievances of the JP, the senior legal figure said the correct procedure for the AG would have been to provide ‘”no comment” to the court when asked about the capability of the EC.

The source pointed to previous conduct of the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) in a case, where the institution had been asked to defend the Maldives Police Service against allegations of arresting people outside of correct procedure.

With the High Court requesting the PGO to answer for police in the case, state prosecutors – concerned the MPS may be at fault – opted to provide a ‘no comment’ on the matter.

The legal source claimed that such a move – based on best practices from across the international community – allowed the courts to infer that police had acted outside of regulations without the PGO taking a side on the matter.

The legal figure also said that, although the AG was permitted to take a side in the case, she should not vocally back a specific party.

AG denies taking sides

Speaking during a Supreme Court hearing on September 18, Attorney General Azima told the court that the state was not taking sides in the legal dispute.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) decided on Friday (September 20) are currently pursuing a no-confidence motion against Azima, as well as for a change the composition of the Supreme Court bench.

The MDP had  previously accused the Azima of advocating against “the interests of a state institution or the state and in favour of the Jumhooree Party’s self-interest.”

The AG, however, repeated her claims that the her office had come across discrepancies in the voter registry published by the EC prior to the election.

“There were names of underage people in the list. There were names repeated in the list. Unless these issues are resolved before holding the second round of the elections, rights of many voters will be undermined,” Shukoor told the court.

AG Azima and Deputy AG Ahmed Usham were not responding to requests for information at time of press.