Parliament was cancelled for the entirety of last week because MPs from both major parties kept clashing on points of order over parliament’s endorsement of cabinet ministers, who were reappointed by the President in July after resigning en masse in protest against the “scorched earth politics” of the opposition majority parliament.
Now, the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) argues that cabinet ministers should be endorsed individually, and is reported to have a list of six ministers it wishes to disapprove. The government meanwhile wants a wholesale endorsement of the cabinet, a function it argues is “ceremonial” arguing that a no-confidence procedure already exists.
At the height of the deadlock several weeks ago, which led to opposition protests, the government went to the Supreme Court in late August claiming that Article 171(i), which states that presidential nominees for the cabinet must be questioned by a parliamentary committee “to determine qualification, educational background and competence”, was outside the constitution.
The Supreme Court issued an injunction against parliament debating the endorsement, but consistent derailment of proceedings by DRP MPs led the Speaker to finally cancel all sessions last week.
The Supreme Court ruled last Thursday that while article 171(i) of the parliament’s rules of procedure does not contradict with constitution, it cannot be used in endorsing cabinet ministers.
Dr Sawad said the ruling “clearly establishes that even if the Majlis does something outside its stated precinct in the constitution, such an act will be ultra vires (beyond its powers)”.
“In terms of legal precedent it has established a Supreme Court endorsement of separation of powers theory in the constitution, and identifies the separate legal precincts of the executive, legislature and judiciary,” he added.
While the ruling installs boundaries for parliament, it is unlikely to resolve the deadlock by itself.
“In terms of the deadlock in the Majlis over cabinet confirmation, the ruling says the Majlis cannot put additional stipulations on endorsing ministers. The ruling still leaves it open to political parties to resolve the matter,” Dr Sawad said.
The DRP has been insistent that it will respect the Supreme Court’s ruling, and that its protests were directed not at the Court but at the government’s use of “delaying tactics” to avoid the controversial cabinet endorsement.
DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf told Minivan News that the party would still seek to have ministers endorsed individually.
Independent MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed meanwhile wrote on his personal blog that although Article 6 of the new Judicature Act – which has been in force for over a week now – stipulates that each Justice must announce his verdict separately, both the ruling and the sole dissenting opinion was announced by the Chief Justice.
“I wouldn’t dare say they issued the ruling in violation of the law,” he wrote. “But I can say that the way they acted and how it is laid out in the law is not the same.”