Supreme Court judges have threatened Elections Commission (EC)’s lawyer Hussain Siraj with contempt of court during today’s hearing filed by the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) requesting the court further delay the run-off election.
Yesterday (Wednesday September 25) the PPM – which narrowly finished in second place during he first round vote – filed a lawsuit at the Supreme Court requesting the court to order the EC to delay the election – until the commission resolves all discrepancies highlighted by the Jumhooree Party (JP) in its ongoing Supreme Court case against the EC.
The run-off is constitutionally mandated to be held within 21 days from the date of the first round of elections
The JP, which came third in the first round of polls, has demanded the court annul the vote due to “systematic failure”, despite widespread positive assessments of the election by local and international election observers.
In presenting their case today (September 26), PPM lawyer Ahmed Zaneen Adam told the court that during the hearings of the JP’s election annulment case heard at the court – in which the PPM had intervened – several discrepancies were raised including a voter’s list that allegedly included names of deceased people, underage people and repeated names.
Following the hearings, the Supreme Court ordered the EC indefinitely suspend the run-off elections scheduled for Saturday.
Zaneen argued that the EC had formulated the voters list in contrast to requirements prescribed in the General Elections Act and the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding the elections, which came as the verdict of a previous case filed by Zaneen himself.
This ruling ordered all relevant authorities to ensure facilitation of a free and fair presidential election, with the EC remaining duty bound to address any possible errors regarding details on the voter registry.
The PPM lawyer contested that the new public interest litigation case was filed to protect the rights of all Maldivian people after alleging that the EC had undermined the rights of voters. He also said that the irregularities in the voter list as well as the conduct of implied that the EC was aligned to a certain political party.
Zaneen requested the court order three separate rulings, including an injunction requesting the court delay the run-off election for four weeks giving time for the PPM to campaign. However, he later changed the four weeks period to two weeks, stating that PPM was fine with two weeks as long as EC is able to correct the voter list in that time frame.
In his second request, Zaneen requested the court to issue an order on EC to seek the assistance of the security services in transportation of ballot boxes and ballot papers and to ensure the security and safety of ballot papers both while being printed and being transported.
In the third request, Zaneen requested the Supreme Court to order the commission to not to use a voter list other than a voter list that has both signature and finger print of the candidates contesting in the run-off elections.
In response to the case, the EC lawyer Hussain Siraj told the court that the orders sought by the PPM would violate the articles 110, 111, 6, 7 and 8 of the constitution.
However, when Siraj attempted to explain how the PPM’s request would invalidate the mentioned articles, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz and other judges interrupted his speech and contended that it was not for Siraj to decide whether a request was unconstitutional but was the duty of the constitution.
Continuing his speech, the EC lawyer told the court that if the Supreme Court delays the run-off election, despite being explicitly mentioned in the constitution that a run-off election should be held within 21 days, it would mean the Supreme Court was amending a constitutional process.
Siraj argued that the constitution did not give the Supreme Court the power to legislate, which is an exclusive power given solely to parliament according to the constitution.
Siraj’s remarks led to heavy criticism from the judges, most notably from Judge Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi and former Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed – two of the four who signed the previous injunction to indefinitely suspend the run-off election.
Interrupting Siraj’s speech, Judge Abdulla Saeed questioned the EC lawyer as to whether he believed the Supreme Court had the power of judicial review, and ordered him not to make misleading statements.
“Isn’t what we are doing [now] judicial reviewing? What else are we doing here?” Saeed questioned Siraj.
Meanwhile. Judge Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi also said that Siraj’s speech was misleading and added that even in the US, certain Supreme Court rulings had become constitutional amendments. He told Siraj that such remarks amounted to contempt of court and warned him not to repeat them.
Judge Adam Mohamed – who is also the chair of Judicial Service Commission (JSC) – requested Siraj not speak in such a manner that implied the EC lawyer was being critical of the recent Supreme Court order to delay the elections.
Adam Mohamed claimed the Supreme Court was a place that would protect and uphold the constitution and said no one can challenge the constitutionality of a decision made by the Supreme Court.
Despite repeated interruptions, Siraj concluded his speech requesting the Supreme Court to declare that there lay no legal and constitutional reasoning to issue the orders requested by the PPM.
In concluding today’s hearing, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz said the Supreme Court would later schedule the date of the next hearing. It is widely expected that the court will issue a verdict in the case on Sunday, as both the EC and the PPM have told in the court that they have presented their arguments.