Special Advisor to President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik and Leader of government-aligned Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) Dr Hassan Saeed has warned that he would seek to invalidate the recently approved political parties bill if it is ratified.
Dr Saeed told local media that the bill infringed rights enshrined in the constitution and that he would file a case at the Supreme Court requesting the law be struck down.
The DQP, according to latest statistics by the Elections Commission, has a membership of just 2,099. Dr Saeed told local newspaper Haveeru that he opposed changes in the bill requiring any political party to have a minimum of 10,000 members.
Dr Saeed argued that requiring a specific number of members to register a political party violated the constitutional right to form political parties.
“While it is a constitutional right for anybody to form political parties, I do also believe that a right could be limited through legislation. But such a limit should be placed in accordance to principles justified in other free and democratic societies. The current bill demanding a certain membership size in order for a political party to be registered is a big problem,” he told Haveeru.
Article 30(a) of the constitution states: “Every citizen has the right to establish and to participate in the activities of political parties.”
Dr Saeed publicly urged President Waheed not to ratify the bill. He added that any decision by President Waheed was expected to be made after consultations with the Attorney General.
Dr Saeed was not responding to calls at time of press.
Speaking to Minivan News, Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail, Chairman of the drafting committee of the Constitutional Assembly that passed the current constitution, echoed similar sentiments towards the bill.
“The bill clearly violates three to four key fundamental constitutional rights, including that of freedom of association, right to acquire and sell property. In short, I see this as a very undemocratic bill,” he said.
Ibra also added that in other democratic societies, political parties were not so strictly regulated, instead being given greater flexibility.
“When major political power brokers decide to regulate political parties, it is highly unlikely it would be carried out in a fair and just way. I believe even two people can go to the Elections Commission and register a party. People would start supporting them based on their success,” he added.
The landmark bill
The bill in concern was proposed on behalf of the government during former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration. It was submitted by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Abdulla in April 2011.
The bill received strong bipartisan support and was passed with 64 votes in favor while only four MPs voted against it.
If ratified and signed into law, the bill will provide a three month period for any political party with fewer than 10,000 members to reach the required amount or face being dissolved.
Of the 16 parties currently in existence, only four have more than 10,000 registered members, including the opposition MDP as well as the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and Jumhooree Party (JP).
The religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) has 5,708 members, down from over 6,000 in February this year while President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik’s Gaumee Ihthihaad Party (GIP) has 3,427 members.
The bill had been severely criticised over the last week by smaller parties including the Adhaalath Party, which claimed that the bill was designed to “eradicate” Islamic ideology from the country.
“The bill is practical”
However, opposition MDP MP Hamid Ghafoor has dismissed accusations that the bill was unconstitutional, claiming it was not the first piece of legislation passed by the Majlis perceived to limit a constitutional right.
“The freedom of expression bill was passed too, which placed limitations on the constitutional right of freedom of expression. So this is not a new precedent,” he said.
“The bill was passed by a very strong majority. The parliament has political parties of different sizes. So when a parliament consisting of several political parties approves the bill, it is the moral say of all the political parties,” he added.
According to Ghafoor, the passing of the bill could be viewed in one of two ways; either in an idealist view or a practical view. He argued that the bill was practical and intended to end the current “corrupt process” of funding political parties that were not at all active.
“Are we to allow such a corrupt process to go on in the name of democracy?” Ghafoor questioned.
“We are not worried”: President Waheed’s GIP
President Waheed’s GIP has said that they are not worried about the consequences the party may face in failing to gain 10,000 members.
Speaking to local media from Malaysia, GIP Deputy Leader Mohamed ‘Nazaki’ Zaki said that panicking at this point in time may hinder the party in boosting membership numbers.
“To be honest, we do not have any concerns at all. We are confident that we can gain a membership much larger than [10,000 members]. We can achieve that result. We know what percentage of people is currently affiliated with political parties. About 40 to 60 percent people are yet to join political parties,” he was reported as saying.
“Our focus is towards that percentage of people who are currently not affiliated with political parties” he added.
The former High Commissioner to Malaysia said that, based on the support his party received from recent visits to Addu City and several other atolls including Shaviyani Atoll, Laamu Atoll and Raa atoll, he was confident of a successful membership drive.
“Not just large parties, it is equally important to have smaller political parties. Just because two major power brokers decide that the country was better off without smaller political parties does little good to the well being of the country’s democracy,” he said.
“Even in other democratic countries, we do not see a trend to destroy smaller political parties. We as a smaller party have on previous occasions proved that we can bring results, and I don’t see any reason why we can’t do so in the future.”
Zaki claimed that some smaller parties were lobbying President Waheed to not to ratify the bill but maintained that his party is yet to decide on whether to make such a move.
“We have not yet decided on [lobbying President]. But we will hold a council meeting next week. In that meeting we will discuss this issue as wall and after that we would decide on it,” he added.
Political parties were first authorised in the Maldives in May 2005 following an executive decree by then-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Prior to the passage of the landmark legislation, political parties were governed by a regulation.
The regulation required 3,000 members for registration and did not stipulate that parties whose membership falls below the figure would be dissolved. However, no political party has been dissolved over the last eight years.