The Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) signalled the majority party’s support today for reducing the number of Supreme Court Justices from seven to five as proposed by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ibrahim Shareef.
During preliminary debate on amendments (Dhivehi) submitted by Shareef to the Judicature Act, Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan said he believed all ruling party MPs would support the proposal, but a decision would be made following discussions at a parliamentary group meeting.
“The work of reforming the judiciary is not something that the PPM has not participated in or stayed away from,” said the PPM parliamentary group leader.
All pro-government MPs subsequently voted in favour of the bill, which was accepted for consideration with 43 votes in favour and 22 against.
Last week, the MDP’s national executive council decided not to support Shareef’s bill with former President Mohamed Nasheed warning that it would allow President Abdulla Yameen to appoint a bench biased in favour of PPM.
The opposition leader told the press that changing the number of judges on the Supreme Court bench would not amount to judicial reform.
Presenting the amendment bill at today’s sitting, Shareef said he believed the number of judges on the apex court was too high for a country the size of the Maldives.
The Supreme Court should maintain “legal consistency” or “uniformity” in its rulings, the MP for Addu Maradhoo said.
Confidence in the judiciary from both the Maldivian public as well as local businesses and foreign investors was essential to ensure development, he added.
Shareef also proposed establishing branches of the High Court in the north and south of the country.
MDP MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik – who has announced his intention to contest in the MDP’s 2018 presidential primary – appealed for pro-government MPs to cooperate with the party’s efforts to reform the judiciary.
The PPM together with coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance has a majority of 48 seats in the 85-member house.
The current Supreme Court bench was appointed as a “shameful” political “bargain” between the MDP and then-opposition parties in 2010, Moosa said, noting that the MDP did not have a majority in the 16th People’s Majlis.
Moosa criticised Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain for swearing in former President Dr Mohamed Waheed following a “coup d’etat” on February 7, 2012 and for remaining silent while MDP MPs were unfairly stripped of their parliament seats.
Nihan meanwhile praised both Shareef and Moosa and suggested that the number of judges on the apex court was worth reconsidering.
Shareef was a “rare” politician, Nihan said, and defended Moosa for forming a ‘people’s court’ during street protests, which was part of the former MDP chairperson’s advocacy for judicial reform.
“If MDP members think about it, if there is one member in MDP’s front rank who wishes well for the nation, I don’t doubt at all that it is the honourable Hulhuhenveiru MP Moosa Manik,” Nihan said.
Nihan suggested that MDP MPs voting against the amendments would be against the party’s principles.
However, Minority Leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said he respected Shareef and Moosa, but the MDP’s national executive council has decided not to support the bill.
“So that is the MDP’s stand about this amendment,” he said.
Moosa had reportedly walked out of the national council meeting and pledged to stand behind Shareef.
Jumhooree Party Leader Gasim Ibrahim meanwhile contended that the proposed revisions were unconstitutional as Supreme Court Justices were appointed for life.
The Constitution specifies the process for removing judges, Gasim continued, and it could not be done by amending laws.
Gasim also criticised Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed for tabling the bill in the agenda, claiming that a controversial amendment submitted by the PPM requiring the reappointment of the auditor general was also tabled in spite of parliament’s counsel general advising that it could not be put to a vote.
While the MDP had also insisted that the amendments were unconstitutional, MPs Shareef and Moosa were among several MDP MPs who voted in favour of appointing former PPM parliamentary candidate Hassan Ziyath as the new auditor general.
Meanwhile, in June this year, the Judicial Service Commission cleared Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed of misconduct after sex tapes of the judge with three prostitutes in a hotel room in Sri Lanka emerged last year.
The room and date stamp in the sex tapes appeared to be the same as that in previously leaked footage of Hameed meeting local businessman Mohamed Saeed, the director of ‘Golden Lane’.
In that video, Hameed declared that he was one of then-PPM presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen’s “back-ups”, and that his stand was “to do things the way Yameen wants”.
Images and symbols depicting scenes from the sex-tape formed a prominent part of the MDP’s protests against the apex court’s repeated interference in last year’s presidential election.
In a controversial 4-3 ruling – with Justice Hameed in the majority – the Supreme Court annulled the results of the first round of the polls conducted on September 7 despite unanimous positive assessment of the polling by more than a thousand domestic and international election observers.
Related to this story