The Supreme Court has on Tuesday invalidated clause 119(e) of the Decentralization Act, which had prevented a councilor from switching political parties after he was elected.
The clause was brought into force following an amendment proposed to the Act on January 2011.
The Supreme Court’s seven-member bench held that the concerned clause contradicted the articles 30(a) and 26(c) of the constitution.
The case was filed by Independent MP and lawyer Ibrahim Riza and Lawyer Ahmed Shaheem who argued that the clause was unconstitutional. Jumhoree Party (JP) Youth Wing Leader Moosa Anwar also intervened in the case.
The article 119(b) of the Decentralisation Act states: “Those elected under a ticket from a political party shall lose his seat if he leaves or he is removed from the party he was when elected.”
The new verdict by the Supreme Court will mean that councilors can now switch from party to party without losing their seat.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed ratified the act on May 2010 but rejected a complementary bill on local council elections.
Nasheed at the time said that his then Attorney General (AG) Husnu Suood advised the president’s office that although the decentralization bill would not hamper the implementation of government policies, some provisions were “legally questionable.”
“If the bill becomes law, both the attorney general and this office has noted that there could be legal problems in enforcing it without amendments,” he told the press.
He echoed similar sentiments on the bill in his weekly radio address at the time where he stated that he would sign the bill into law despite misgivings as any further delays would do “more harm than good”.
“I hope that after I ratify this bill, amendments will be made as soon as possible, within the present framework, to change the provisions where these conflicts could arise,” he said at the time.
Although then opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) removed the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s concept of provinces from the government’s bill, Nasheed said the Act did not prohibit the creation of province as it stipulates that new legislation would be needed to form “province councils.”
Despite opposition from MPs in opposition claiming that grouping atolls into seven provinces was unconstitutional as 21 administrative areas or atolls were clearly specified in the constitution, Nasheed later established provinces in an administrative level.
The bill was subjected to several amendments and court cases.
Last August, the Supreme Court ruled that provisions of the Decentralisation Act were not in conflict with the constitution.
In March 2011, former State Minister for Home Affairs Mohamed ‘Monaza’ Naeem filed a case at the apex court arguing that some provisions of the Act contradicted the unitary nature of the Maldivian state as laid out in the constitution, and requested the conflicting articles be struck down.
Naeem had argued that the Local Government Authority (LGA) created by the Decentralisation Act was not answerable to any government minister while article 140 of the constitution states – “A member of the cabinet shall be given responsibility for each authority or institute established by the government or the People’s Majlis, except for independent institutions specified in this constitution or established pursuant law. Such member of the cabinet must take responsibility for the operation of such authority or institution and must be accountable for it.”
Previously, several councilors lost their seats following removal from their respective political parties.
In March this year, Noonu atoll Maafaru Island Councilor Anwar Abdul Ghanee lost his seat after he was removed from his party Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) but contested the by-elections with Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) ticket, winning the seat.