The attorney general has filed a case in the Supreme Court requesting a writ of mandamus against the Elections Commission to prevent dissolution of political parties that has failed to maintain the required 10,000 members as stipulated in the Political Parties Act.
The parliament’s overrule of presidential veto on the Political Parties Bill by a majority of 60 votes on Tuesday (March 5) means the bill will automatically came into force without needing ratification from the president.
Deputy Solicitor General Ahmed Usham was reported in local media as stating that enactment of the Political Parties Act meant political parties that do not have the required number of members would be dissolved without any transitional period.
The attorney general, he said, was of the view that dissolution of smaller political parties without a transitional period would compromise the rights of several parties.
According to Usham, the state has requested the Supreme Court issue a writ that would prevent dissolution of the parties prior to a court decision, or until a transitional mechanism is set up.
“Referring to the legal principles employed in other democratic societies, dissolution of a political party that is formed in accordance with the law is only given on very exceptional occasions,” he told local newspaper Haveeru.
He contended that the consequence of ratifying the bill was that smaller political parties would be dissolved in an irresponsible manner without being given the opportunity to attain the required membership.
The attorney general requested the Supreme Court declare who should be held responsible for the debts incurred by a political party dissolved as per the Political Parties Act.
“We have filed the case in two ways. The first asking the Supreme Court to issue a writ declaring that smaller political parties will not be dissolved and the second to invalidate the clause which dictates dissolution of political parties that do not have a membership of 10,000. The bill failed to highlight who should be responsible to the debts incurred by the party and its employees,” an official from the AG’s office stated.
According to the official, the same arguments were reflected in the letter giving reasons for vetoing the bill, which was sent to parliament by President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik before it was forced into law.
“Our concern is that political parties are legal entities, they have made contracts with several parties. If they are dissolved without a transitional period this compromises a lot of rights,” he added.
Passage of the bill
The Political Parties bill was passed on December 2012 however, President Waheed – whose own Gaumee Iththihaadh Party (GIP) is among those set to be dissolved – refused to ratify the bill and sent it back to parliament for reconsideration in January.
However, with unanimous support from both parliament’s minority leader and majority leader, the bill was forced into law by overruling the presidential veto on Tuesday. Out of the 67 members present during the vote, 60 voted in favour of the passage of the bill while six voted against the bill and one MP abstained.
The law will provide a three month period for any political party with fewer than 10,000 members to reach the required amount or face being dissolved.
Article 11 of the law states that at least 10,000 signatures would be needed to register a party at the Elections Commission (EC), which would be mandated to ensure that membership does not fall below the figure.
Parties unable to sign 10,000 members would be dissolved.
Immediate dissolution of smaller political parties
However following the ratification, President of Elections Commission Fuad Thaufeeg stated that the commission’s interpretation of the act suggests that political parties that do not have a minimum of 10,000 members could be abolished immediately.
He stated that once the act is gazetted, the commission was of the view that smaller political parties would immediately be dissolved. However, he said that EC’s legal team was currently reviewing the act and would make a decision based on its report.
“Our legal team is currently reviewing the law before it actually is enacted. The bill having passed by such a strong majority means that the commission would make all the necessary arrangements to begin enforcing the law,” he said.
He added that the law gives the Elections Commission additional powers to regulate and discipline political parties and that the law also gives powers to the commission to take action against parties that violate the law.
Despite several parties facing being dissolved, Thaufeeg said that he hoped to see several parties registered under the new law.
Several leaders of smaller political parties including President Waheed have criticised the Act.
During a party rally held in GIP headquarters, President Mohamed Waheed criticised parliament claiming that the legislature was very “stubborn” towards amending the bill.
Meanwhile, his party spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said on Thursday in a press conference that the political parties act directly violated the constitution and compromised several rights guaranteed by the constitution.
“Fundamental rights can only be abolished through a public referendum. We want parliament members to amend the act,” he said. “Our problem is not just 10,000. The Act is flawed and has several lapses.”
He added that GIP wish to intervene in the case filed in the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Adhaalath Party leaders claimed the legislation was a direct attempt to dissolve the party and in the long run “eradicate” Islamic ideology from Maldivian politics and “defeat” the party’s efforts to oppose alleged attempts to secularise the country.
“This is a big political and legal challenge [they] placed before Adhaalath Party. The way the political sphere in the country is shaped today, it is very important for a political party like Adhaalath Party to exist,” said its leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla at the time.
DQP Leader Hassan Saeed echoed the Adhaalath Party in warning that he would seek to invalidate the bill through the Supreme Court if it was ratified. Latest statistics shows that the DQP’s membership currently stands less than 3,000 members.
“While it is a constitutional right for anybody to form political parties, I do also believe that a right could be limited through legislation. But such a limit should be placed in accordance to principles justified in other free and democratic societies. The current bill demanding a certain membership size in order for a political party to be registered is a big problem,” Saeed was quoted saying in local media.
Of the 16 parties currently in existence, only five parties now have more than 10,000 registered members, including the formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) as well as the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Business tycoon MP Gasim Ibrahim’s Jumhoree Party (JP) and most recently, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP).
According to EC, tourism magnate Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam’s Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) have also attained the required number of members.
Political parties were first authorised in the Maldives in May 2005 following an executive decree by then-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
The regulation required 3,000 members for registration and did not stipulate whether parties with membership numbers falling below the figure would be dissolved.