The Attorney General has filed a case at the Supreme Court requesting it declare that existing smaller political parties would not be dissolved following the ratification of the new Political Parties Act.
On March 2013, a similar case was filed by the attorney general requesting a writ of mandamus against the Elections Commission to prevent dissolution of those political parties which failed to maintain the required 10,000 members as stipulated in the Political Parties Act.
Following the case, Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction against the Elections Commission ordering it to withhold the dissolution of political parties that did not have the required membership.
During the hearing of the new case filed as an ex parte case on Wednesday, state attorney Ahmed Usham contended that there were legal issues with the Political Parties Act.
Usham argued that although the constitution states that a fundamental right could be limited only through legislation, the state was not of the view that the right to association and form political parties be limited as strictly as stipulated by the act.
He added that political parties were also separate legal entities under both the political parties’ regulation that was in place prior to the enactment of the new act, and therefore would have conducted commercial transactions and hired employees.
Therefore, dissolution of political parties Usham argued, would compromise the rights of several groups of people.
He also contended that requirement of specific number of members in a political party varied from country to country, but countries with larger populations than the Maldives had a lower minimum requirement for party membership.
Though the case is being heard as an ex parte case, tourism magnate Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam’s Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) also intervened in the case.
Speaking during the hearing, MDA’s lawyer Maumoon Hameed contended that following the enactment of the Political Parties Act, several rights of the political party had been compromised.
He also said that the requirement of 10,000 members was too large compared to the population of the country.
Hameed contended that the bill’s stipulation that newly formed political parties would have a three month period to gain membership, while existing parties did not have the same opportunity, was unfair.
The MDA also requested the Supreme Court declare that existing smaller political parties would not be dissolved according to the law.
Today’s hearing was heard by the full seven member bench of the Supreme Court, and concluded without mention of a further hearing on the matter.
Passage of the bill
The Political Parties bill was passed on December 2012 however, President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik – 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.
On March 5, with unanimous support from both parliament’s minority leader and majority leader, the bill was forced into law, overruling the presidential veto. 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.
Article 11 of the law states that at least 10,000 signatures are needed to register a party with the Elections Commission (EC), which would be mandated to monitor that membership does not fall below the figure.
Parties unable to sign 10,000 members would be dissolved.
Immediate dissolution of smaller political parties
Following ratification, President of the Elections Commission (EC) Fuad Thaufeeq stated that the commission’s interpretation of the act suggested that political parties that did not have a minimum of 10,000 members could be abolished immediately.
He stated that once the act was gazetted, the commission was of the view that smaller political parties would immediately be dissolved. However, he said the 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. That the bill has passed with such a strong majority means that the commission will 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 powers to take action against parties violating the law.
Despite several parties facing being dissolved, Thaufeeg said that he hoped to see several parties registered under the new law.
Following the enactment of the act, several smaller political parties including President Waheed’s GIP, his Special Advisor Dr Hassan Saeed’s Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), MDA and religious conservative Adhaalath Party criticised the Act, stating that they would take the matter to the Supreme Court and seek invalidation of the bill.