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The Supreme Court has pressed contempt of court charges against the Elections Commission (EC) and held an unannounced hearing today under new regulations that allow the apex court to initiate charges and hold trial.
“The [Supreme Court] judges believe comments made by the Elections Commission in various forums on the court’s decisions and orders are contemptuous of the court. Today’s hearing is on our own initiative,” Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz said.
In addition to allegations of contempt of court, the EC is being charged with allegedly violating a Supreme Court order by dissolving eight minor political parties.
All four EC members were handed summons yesterday to attend the Supreme Court. However, Minivan News understands EC members and lawyers were not informed the Supreme Court would hold trial today. Case documents were only given to the commission a few minutes before trial began.
EC lawyer Hussein Siraj requested the Supreme Court to allow the commission an opportunity to research case documents and respond accordingly.
After a five-minute discussion break, Faiz agreed to the commission’s request and adjourned the hearing. He said a date for the next hearing would be announced later.
Five of the seven Supreme Court judges presided over today’s hearing, including Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz, Judge Ali Hameed, Judge Abdulla Saeed, Judge Ahmed Abdulla Didi, and Judge Adam Mohamed Abdulla.
New regulations, titled ‘sumoto’ and publicised on February 6 allow the Supreme Court to initiate trials against any organisation or individual.
The defendants must be allowed the right to defend themselves, the regulations state.
The seven-member judge panel will preside over sumoto cases unless the Supreme Court decides otherwise.
“[The Supreme Court] must refer to how free and democratic countries act in such cases, in a manner that does not contradict the constitution of the Maldives,” the regulations state.
Contempt of court
Faiz said that the EC had made remarks in various press conferences that amounted to contempt of court, and which violated Article 145 of the constitution which states that the Supreme Court shall be the final authority on the interpretation of the constitution.
Four of the seven judges claimed that dead and underage voters had been allowed to vote, though it later emerged that several of those listed as deceased were in fact alive while several individuals listed as minors were in fact eligible to vote.
The EC has also said a 16-point electoral guideline imposed by the Supreme Court was “impractical”.
A leaked report by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives has also questioned the evidence, noting that the Supreme Court does not have the authority to delineate guidelines.
Political Parties Act
The EC is also being charged with violating a January 9 Supreme Court order, which invalidated an EC order to smaller political parties requiring raising their membership to 10,000.
The EC had sent the letter as per Article 27 of the Political Party Act that states that it must give political parties a three-month deadline to increase party membership to 10,000.
The Supreme Court on January 9, however, ruled that the letter was invalid as the apex court had in September struck down Article 11 of the Political Party Act. Although the Supreme Court had not expressly struck down Article 27 in its initial verdict, the January 9 order said Article 27 was no longer functional.
Speaking to Minivan News before today’s trial, Fuwad said the EC had not disobeyed the Supreme Court’s order, saying that he believed the court may be referring to the EC’s decision to dissolve eight parties on February 6 for failing to reach the mandatory minimum of 3,000 members.
“While most of these parties are not active at all, the Elections Commission made a public announcement in 2013 to find out where their offices were located as letters and other documents sent to the parties were not being delivered,” the EC stated in a press release at the time.
“We also note that these parties to whom funds have to be released every year from the state budget have not been regularly submitting audit reports to the Elections Commission.”
As inactive parties were provided large amounts of state funding, the EC noted that dissolving the parties would alleviate the strain on the state budget.