Parliament was disrupted and cancelled less than half an hour into today’s sitting after opposition MPs vociferously objected to the presence of convicted MP Ismail Abdul Hameed, insisting that sittings could not go ahead with the Kaashidhoo MP in attendance.
Hameed was convicted of corruption on August 29 and sentenced to 18 months banishment. He has since appealed the Criminal Court verdict at the High Court, which concluded hearings last week and is due to issue a ruling.
Parliament sittings have been cancelled since last Monday as a result of the dispute over Hameed’s right to participate in sittings and committee meetings pending a High Court decision.
Discussions among parliamentary group leaders to resolve the deadlock have so far been unsuccessful. Some committee meetings, where legislation is reviewed and stakeholders consulted, have however been taking place over the past two weeks.
Responding to points of order raised by opposition MPs today, Speaker Abdulla Shahid said parliament did not have the legal authority or jurisdiction to determine if an MP should be stripped of his or her seat.
Shahid noted that according to article 74 of the constitution, “Any question concerning the qualification or removal, or vacating of seats, of a member of the People’s Majlis shall be determined by the Supreme Court.”
“The constitution doesn’t say the Majlis Speaker, a Majlis member or any other state institution could do it,” he said, adding that by-elections would be called and conducted by the independent Elections Commission (EC).
The Speaker explained that the EC had sent a letter to parliament requesting that the Supreme Court’s counsel be sought to resolve the dispute.
According to article 95 of the constitution, parliament could “by resolution refer to the Supreme Court for hearing and consideration important questions of law concerning any matter, including the interpretation of the constitution and the constitutional validity of any statute.”
Parliament’s Independent Institutions Committee has however been unable to reach a decision on seeking the Supreme Court’s opinion on the issue.
Shahid noted that the Supreme Court could only offer assistance if parliament passed a resolution.
“Therefore, a solution to this could be found when the Supreme Court considers the issue and makes a decision,” he said. “Today’s sitting was held because as Speaker I believe that until then we should proceed with the work of this Majlis.”
Opposition MPs however continued to raise points of order contending that there was no room for dispute as an MP with a sentence to serve could not attend parliament. After the series of consecutive points of order, Speaker Shahid called off today’s sitting.
A Parliament Watch report, prepared by Transparency Maldives with UNDP support and released in June this year, found that a quarter of all sittings last year were terminated due to disruption.
Following last week’s forced cancellations, Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan told Minivan News that opposition MPs did not wish to disrupt proceedings but were objecting because article 73(c)(3) of the constitution clearly stated that MPs found guilty of a criminal offence “and sentenced to a term of more than twelve months” would be stripped of their seat.
“What if later at some point the High Court and the Supreme Court upholds the lower court’s ruling and declares that his seat is vacant?” he asked. “If that happens, then another issue will be raised – how do we know if the votes he gives now are valid?”