Parliament has approved Ismail Habeeb Abdul Raheem with 60 votes in favour and none against to the Elections Commission (EC) to replace former commission member Ibrahim ‘Ogaru’ Waheed.
Following Waheed’s resignation in October last year citing poor health, President Abdulla Yameen nominated three individuals to fill the vacancy on the five-member commission, submitting their names to the People’s Majlis.
All MPs belonging to the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in attendance today voted in favour of approving Habeeb to the post.
After interviewing Yameen’s nominees last night, the opposition-majority independent institutions oversight committee awarded Habeeb the highest marks and recommended approving his appointment to the commission.
Presenting the committee report (Dhivehi) to the Majlis floor today, Deputy Chair MP Rozaina Adam noted that one of the three nominees – former Deputy Commissioner of Police Mohamed Rishwan – did not turn up for the interview.
Meanwhile, after interviewing the third nominee, Mohamed Tholal – chair of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) elections committee – the committee learned that his wife was contesting in the upcoming parliamentary elections, Rozaina said.
Tholal had conceded that he could face a conflict of interest in EC decisions concerning the Maradhoo constituency poll, she added.
In the ensuing debate on the committee report, PPM MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur said there were “no questions about Ismail Habeeb’s competence” as he had previously served as the EC’s executive director and director general.
Habeeb was sacked from the EC in January 2013 before contesting his dismissal at the Labour Tribunal. The tribunal ordered his reinstatement in August 2013, by which time he has been appointed to the Civil Court as its senior administrator.
Government-aligned Maldives Development Alliance MP Ahmed Amir meanwhile accused former EC members of “favouring a particular political party”.
Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party MP Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed asserted that EC President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz had become “sacrificial lambs”, and praised their “hard work and service to the nation.”
The EC members had worked “like slaves during the time of the Pharaoh” under difficult circumstances to ensure citizens’ right to vote, he said, adding that unfounded allegations against the pair were “shameful”.
The outcome of last year’s presidential poll would have been different if the allegations were true, Nasheed said.
Habeeb’s confirmation to the EC today follows the Supreme Court’s controversial removal of Thowfeek and Fayaz on Sunday on contempt of court charges.
The dismissals left the EC without the three members required for a quorum to hold meetings and approve decisions, raising doubts over the commission’s ability to prepare for and conduct the parliamentary elections as scheduled on March 22.
The Supreme Court judgment also ordered the executive, parliament, and the EC to “make all necessary arrangements” for the polls within six days.
While the President’s Office invited interested candidates to submit applications in the wake of the apex court ruling, Speaker Abdulla Shahid sent a letter to President Yameen, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz, and Attorney General Mohamed Anil contending that the dismissals were unconstitutional.
The letter – based on legal advice provided by parliament’s Counsel General Fathmath Filza – stated that the pair were removed in violation of procedures specified in both the constitution and the Elections Commission Act for the appointment and dismissal of EC members.
Based on the counsel general’s advice, the independent institutions committee decided that Thowfeek and Fayaz remained EC members and summoned all four commissioners to a closed-door session yesterday.
The oversight committee had also summoned members of the Judicial Service Commission to discuss the Supreme Court’s ‘sumoto’ regulations as well as possible actions against the apex court.
However, with the exception of Civil Service Commission Chair Dr Mohamed Latheef and Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman, JSC members refused to attend the meeting, citing short notice.
The oversight committee decided to summon members of the judicial watchdog body again on Friday (March 14).
Meanwhile, MDP Chairperson ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik told local media yesterday that the opposition party wished to see the Majlis elections take place as scheduled on March 22.
Moosa had adjourned an MDP national council meeting earlier this week without calling a vote on a proposal to boycott the polls, stating that the party’s 85 candidates should be consulted before approving such a decision.
The Hulhuhenveiru MP suggested that the polls could be held on March 22 if parliament approved a third member to the EC as most of the preparations had been completed.