The decision of the Supreme Court to dismiss members of the Elections Commission (EC) this week has been roundly condemned by the international community.
In statements released today, the US has said it “strongly objects” to the courts actions, and Canada has said that it was “deeply troubled” by the decision, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has also expressed concern.
Meanwhile, all three statements have praised the work of the EC over recent months – the US noting that the EC has made “laudable efforts to hold multiple successful elections despite previous judicial interference.”
“The Maldives Election Commission has done an exceptional job under especially difficult circumstances in ensuring transparent, inclusive and credible electoral processes in the Maldives,” read the Canadian statement.
Similarly, the UN stated noted that Ban Ki-Moon “commends the Elections Commission for its professionalism and tireless efforts to ensure credible and transparent elections.”
With less than two weeks remaining until the Majlis polls on March 22, the EU’s Maldives Elections Observer Mission has noted the significant “time pressure” which now weighs on the EC.
Following the dismissal of EC President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice-President Ahmed Fayaz on Sunday (March 9), the EC is left without a constitutionally mandated quorum needed to hold meetings.
The government is currently taking applications for the vacant positions, after which the president is legally required to submit names to the Majlis for approval.
The Majlis yesterday wrote to both the Chief Justice and the Attorney General stating that the constitution granted the powers for appointments and dismissals of the EC to the legislature.
“The Court’s decision to censure all members of the commission for ‘disobeying and challenging’ previous Supreme Court judgements also raises questions regarding due process and judicial interference in the electoral process,” read today’s Canadian statement.
“An independent and effective election commission is an essential element in any genuine democracy, and undermining the commission and its ability to function again places the Maldives’ democratic transition in question.”
In a similar vein, the US statement suggested that the court’s decision represented an “unprecedented expansion of judicial powers”.
“The Supreme Court’s insistence on holding parliamentary elections on March 22 while imprisoning the very official responsible for holding those elections calls into serious question the government’s commitment to democracy,” said the US State Department.
Ban Ki-moon underlined the “importance of respect for the principle of separation of powers, the rule of law, and the independence of constitutionally established bodies.”
Today’s criticism comes after repeated warnings from the government to refrain from criticising the country’s courts.
President Abdulla Yameen yesterday noted that the tendency for “first world” countries to “interfere” in the internal matters of small countries was concerning, echoing comments recently made by the Maldives’ foreign minister at the UN Human Rights Council.
“We request our international partners to support us. We request you to contribute constructively in overcoming our challenges. We urge you not to undermine our judicial system,” said Dunya Maumoon the HRC’s 25th session last week.
Dunya yesterday also called upon the Commonwealth – a notable critic of the Maldives during the recent protracted presidential elections – to become a more “relevant” and “responsive” body.
The Commonwealth had not released any statements on the current EC case at the time of press.
The Maldives judiciary has been the subject of international criticism on a number of occasions in recent months.
The UN Human Rights Committee on civil and political rights has previously said it is “deeply concerned about the state of the judiciary in the Maldives”, while the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay last year accused the Supreme Court of “subverting the democratic process”.
UN Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul expressed concern over the judiciary in a 2013 report, while the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) had in 2011 stated that the Maldivian courts were failing to serve the public impartially.