Additional reporting by Leah Malone, JJ Robinson
Lawyers defending the Elections Commission (EC) and representing the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) were today ejected from the Supreme Court, for criticising its order to indefinitely delay the second round of presidential elections.
The EC’s lawyer, former Attorney General Husnu Suood, was reportedly accused of contempt of court and removed from court.
The MDP’s legal team, including lawyers Hisaan Hussein and Hassan Latheef, who had intervened in the case as a third party (inter-partes claim), were also dismissed from today’s hearing, which was ongoing at time of press.
The Supreme Court letter posted by MDP lawyer Hisaan Hussain stated that she had been barred from appearing before the court in the ongoing Jumhooree Party (JP) versus EC case as her remarks “in the media as well as social media” had allegedly “diminished the dignity” of the court and were under investigation.
Hamza noted that the suspended lawyers were not allowed any opportunity to defend themselves before they were barred from the apex court.
The EC has defended itself by challenging the veracity of evidence submitted by the JP alleging electoral impropriety, and stated that even were the allegations factual, they were not sufficient to impact the results of the first round.
The EC has also pointed to unanimous positive assessments of the polling by local and international observers, including the Commonwealth, EU, US, UN, India, Transparency Maldives, the Maldivian Democracy Network and the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM).
The Supreme Court nonetheless issued the injunction last night (September 23) to delay the runoff election until it has finished looking into the JP’s alleged discrepancies.
Prior to attending the case today, Suood told Minivan News that the EC had “no recourse” against the Supreme Court’s suspension of the run-off, despite there being “no legal basis” for the order that has the “constitution up in flames”.
Suood contends that the Supreme Court injunction is in breach of Article 111 of the constitution, which demands a run-off election within 21 days of a first round in which no candidate reaches over 50 percent.
While there were more “complicated” legal arguments for refuting the Supreme Court injunction, Article 111 provides the simplest example of the constitutional violation committed by the court, according to Suood.
Suood explained that there is no way to appeal the Supreme Court order or seek another judicial remedy: “There is no further recourse,” he stated.
While constitutionally the legislative or executive branches should intervene in the matter, Suood said he believed parliament must take action against the Supreme Court.
“Parliament needs to re-convene and decide [what actions to take],” said Suood. “However parliament cannot take decisions [right now] because of the [divisive] politics within it.”
Disorderly protests by MPs of the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and JP stymied, but failed to stop, an MDP resolution to ensure that the second round of the presidential election is held as scheduled.
Suood however explained that it would be “very, very difficult” to remove the judges sitting on the Supreme Court bench, not only because of political polarisation creating unrest within Parliament, but also due to the politicised composition of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).
“The JSC would need to issue a motion [to remove a judge or judges], which would then need the approval of Parliament, but the JSC Chair is also Supreme Court judge,” noted Suood.
The JSC recently decided to reject a proposed no-confidence motion against its Chair, Supreme Court Justice Adam Mohamed, filed by commission member Shuaib Abdul Rahman.
“The JSC is out of control right now, we must do something. The JSC president is ‘out of the circle’,” Parliament’s Independent Institutions Committee Member and MDP MP Ahmed Sameer previously told Minivan News.
The Supreme Court bench consists of seven judges, all of whom discussed the ruling against the EC, however the injunction was signed by four: Justice Abdulla Saeed, Justice Ali Hameed Mohamed, Justice Adam Mohamed Abdulla, and Justice Dr Abdulla Didi.
Meanwhile, during the MDP’s National Council meeting last night (September 23) the party’s presidential candidate and former President Mohamed Nasheed reassured supporters “not to worry”.
“The Maldives is changing, and it will change according to how we want it to. I call on the Election Commissioner to ignore the Supreme Court, and to obey Majlis resolution and hold elections on Saturday,” said Nasheed.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision to accept the Jumhooree Party’s case against the Elections Commission last week, the MDP released a statement indicating its resolve to “not allow a courthouse that consists of some disgraced judges who face allegations of lewd conduct to abrogate the will of the people and disrupt the constitution”.
Meanwhile, the MDP demonstrated at the Supreme Court today behind police cordons further down the street, after the party’s pledge to continue direct action until the presidential run-off is re-scheduled.
Women on the front line held aloft cartoons mocking Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed – one of four judges whose name appeared on yesterday’s ruling – for his infamous role in a sex tape scandal earlier this year.
Others brandished pictures depicting the large pair of white underpants – a reference to the same video – that have quickly become emblematic of the demonstrations.