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Civil society groups in the Maldives have added their voices to the growing concern over the Supreme Court’s actions against the Elections Commission (EC).
“The Maldivian Democracy Network and the Maldives NGO Federation are gravely concerned by the recent proceedings initiated by the Supreme Court of the Maldives against the members of the Elections Commission of the Maldives,” read a joint press release today.
After using newly introduced procedures to both initiate and oversee contempt of court charges against the EC, the court has subsequently deemed privileged Majlis testimony to be admissible in the case.
Today’s statement closely follows that of the EU’s Sri Lanka delegation which yesterday called upon the government to ensure the commission’s independence ahead of the March 22 Majlis elections.
Recalling the recent controversies surrounding the 2013 presidential election, the NGO statement argued these events had come at a “great cost to the state and the people”.
“We strongly urge all parties to ensure that the upcoming parliamentary elections are efficient, independent and fair. Any hindrance by any party to this process would be undemocratic and unfair for the people of the Maldives.”
The court’s decision to bring the charges of contempt of court refer to criticism of the decision to annul last September’s presidential election first round. The annulment was followed by further cancelled and delayed polls after much wrangling over the court’s new election guidelines.
The EC has also been accused of disobeying a Supreme Court order by dissolving eight political parties earlier this month.
The NGO statement has today referred to the 16 point guidelines as “onerous” and “controversial”.
Supreme Court must earn respect, say NGOs
Describing the current court case as “unjust”, runner-up in the presidential poll Mohamed Nasheed has said that his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) will not compete next month’s vote should the four EC members be removed.
Following today’s second EC advisory committee meeting in preparations for the March vote, MDP Spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said that the commission owed MVR12 million in pending bills after delays at the Finance Ministry.
Hamid reported, however, that the EC was confident the elections would proceed as scheduled.
The civil society statement noted that the decision to use testimony protected under the constitution had overstepped the court’s boundaries as the ultimate interpreter of the constitution.
Claiming establishing justice to be a tenet of Islam, Supreme Court Judge Ahmed Abdulla Didi has said the EC’s testimony at the independent commissions oversight committee obstructed justice and could be used in a court.
The court has said that no party has the authority to question or criticise its decisions as per Article 145 (c) of the constitution.
“The Elections Commission has been established in very clear terms by the Constitution of the Maldives as an independent institution with its oversight assigned to the people through their representatives in the People’s Majlis,” read today’s NGO press release.
“Writing this criteria in the Constitution cannot bring independence to an institution if it cannot be practiced and fully respected. Similarly, respect for an institution is not inherent to being a part of the Constitution. The Supreme Court must, as every other institution, earn the respect of the people.”