“If civilizations is to survive, one is driven to radical views. I do not mean driven to violence. Violence always compromises or ruins the cause it means to serve: it produces as much wrong as it tries to remedy. The state, for example, is always with us. Overthrow it and it will comeback in another form, quite possible worse. It is a necessary evil– a monster that continually has to be tamed, so that it serves us rather than devours us. We can’t do without it, neither can we trust it” (Quoted from Fiji times 17th January 2007, in Firth, Fraenkel and Lal, 2009).
Formation of judiciary
The Maldives judiciary has a long history of being under the control of the powerful and rich. In the olden days kings decided verdicts while later it came under the influence of dictatorial regime. Democracy however brought a new frontier of judiciary with a presupposition of being independent, transparent and impartial. This, however, is far from reality today and it seems judiciary is the biggest impediment for a true democracy in the small nation.
The judiciary has its evil in the way it was formed in 2008 to ratify the Article 285 of the green constitution. The Judicial Service Commission at that time also was hijacked by the bench of interim Supreme Court. Furthermore they undermined the constitution by self reorganising to re-establish as the permanent bench. Some from the bar and the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) immediately recognised the evil deeds of the then chief justice and immediately went on strike and locked the Supreme Court.
Even then, the current government – in opposition at the time – were sympathising with the bench and was in favour of its actions. The ramifications of this led to the formation of a bench in a haste in an extraordinary session of the Majlis. The bench formed was mainly of judges with strong sharia background with not much academic exposure to common laws practiced used in most civilised democratic countries. In addition, judge’s appointments had questionable integrity related issues. This was confirmed and well proven by the then JSC member Aishath Velazinee, and was circulated in the media.
The Litmus test
Major litmus test of judiciary came with the overthrowing of the democratically elected government in 2012. The bench in particular was faced with a major test of integrity and of serving justice. However the complacency shown by whole bench in the events before, during and after the toppling of the government was dubious. Many suspicious people were convinced of their romance with the old dictatorial regime elements. The grassroots ran havoc on streets with no sense or awareness of rule of law.
Grassroots were blamed for attacks on law enforcement infrastructure, while their agony and pain was overlooked. Grassroots were blamed for not controlling their temper while temperament of elements of uniformed bodies that attacked civilians was justified. Also the grassroots with no sense of rule of law were led to a dilemma by not being provided guidance and legality in the toppling of the government. Instead the chief justice’s immediate action was to swear in the incumbent vice president who was alleged to be a major player of the “coup”.
This response immediately legitimised the actions of uniformed bodies before, during, and after the coup event. It also gave coup perpetrators and sympathisers powers leading to further repercussions. Till this day, the elements of uniformed bodies guilty of several crimes committed on day of coup and the following day remain immune to justice. For the grassroots and the watchful minds a clear fraternity between the judiciary and coup perpetrators was obvious.
Winners and losers
In essence the ‘coup’ of 2012 became a winner for the judiciary which was faced with heavy criticism, during the autumn of the democracy. Some even believe the fall of democracy has been a making of the judiciary. Soon after the coup the judiciary started enjoying a honeymoon, with overwhelming immunity and impunity. Their romance with dictatorial elements alleged to have perpetrated the coup, lead to erosion of rule of law and justice.
Justice in the country became a joke even to the layman. Any coup collaborators or sympathisers were proven innocent before going into courts – albeit of their corruption allegations. Anyone who was against the coup became guilty before appearing in court. Day by day the grassroots became aware of the romancing of the judiciary with a particular political group. The public lost their trust in the whole judiciary. This was compounded by the dictatorial nature of judicial watch dog which from day one acted as the white cloak hiding the bench of its dirt.
In 2013, the election became a war of ‘coup’ perpetrators and their allies and the rest of the public. In a first round the public showed a relentless and overwhelming majority for the MDP. Fear began looming within the bench and their allies, enjoying the sweet honeymoon. The MDP became more vocal on reforming judiciary and garnered more support. The looming fear within the judiciary and bench became obvious when they intervened to an internationally acclaimed transparent electoral process using baseless allegations.
Their allies in law enforcement and government by then cooked up a blatant litany of a report regarding elections. This became the catalyst for the bench to annul the elections, jeopardising one of the best electoral processes in the history of the nation. The grassroots later found the fallacies of this report which was heavily criticised by the Elections Commission. The election was won by the judiciary and the bench, as it turned in their favour.
The MDP garnered further support and strength from grass roots and kept their spirits alive by being consistent with their pledge to reform judiciary. Fear lurking within the bench again awakened. Fear of the MDP winning the Maldives Majlis and the bench getting dissolved was not far from reality. The bench’s fears led to the utilisation of new tactics which involved becoming the jury, the judge, and the plaintiff in a case which even the layman and grassroots understood as injustice.
Finally the verdict to dismiss the president of the Elections Commission was given by the bench. The verdict was a clear abrogation of the green constitution. The bench once again laid down a path to remain.
The constitution turning the judiciary evil and opening the Pandora’s Box is a misconception. The irony lies in the establishment of the bench, in abrogation of the green constitution. The root cause of evil is undermining the constitution by Majlis during the formation of the bench as reiterated by Velazinee. Additionally the international community turns a blind eye to the whole saga of appalling events.
The reactions and actions of the bench and JSC have further convinced the grassroots of their deception. One’s actions become a blessing for others in disguise. The response of the bench may garner further support for the MDP. Their slogan to reform judiciary may perhaps make them the winners, sooner or later. However, the players who made the judiciary green eyed and then white-washed it, are yet to be discovered.