Parliament tables no-confidence motion against Defence Minister in defiance of Supreme Court injunction

Parliament announced today that a no-confidence motion filed against Defence Minister Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim has been tabled despite a Supreme Court injunction ordering parliament to halt pending no-confidence votes.

The People’s Majlis secretariat revealed that Defence Minister Nazim has been given the required 14-day notice and his ministry also duly informed by Speaker Abdulla Shahid.

Article 101(a) of the constitution states, “At least fourteen days notice of the debate in the People’s Majlis concerning a motion under article (a) shall be given to the concerned member of the cabinet, and he shall have the right to defend himself in the sittings of the People’s Majlis, both orally and in writing.”

The move comes in apparent defiance of an injunction or stay order issued by the Supreme Court to halt conducting no-confidence votes through secret ballot, pending a ruling by the apex court on the constitutionality of the secret vote.

Speaker Abdulla Shahid and Parliament’s Counsellor General Fathimath Filza were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

The injunction (Dhivehi) was issued in a case filed by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) council member and lawyer of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim ‘Wadde’.

Waheed contended that secret votes were unlawful as article 85 of the constitution states that the People’s Majlis or any of its committees “may decide to exclude the public and the press from all or any part of the proceedings if there is a compelling need to do so in the interests of public order or national security.”

Waheed requested the Supreme Court specify the constitutional measure to determine a two-third majority of parliament – required to impeach the president – and to declare that the Majlis decision to approve a secret ballot was unconstitutional.

On December 3, parliament voted 41-34 to approve amendments to the parliamentary rules of procedure to conduct no-confidence votes to impeach the President and remove cabinet members through secret ballot.

MPs of the government-aligned Jumhooree Party (JP) and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) joined the formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to vote the amendment through.

The no-confidence motion against Defence Minister Nazim was submitted by the MDP earlier this month on the grounds that he misused his authority as acting Transport Minister by using the military to influence termination of commercial contracts.

The MDP has also submitted a no-confidence motion to impeach President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik.

The no-confidence motion against Nazim was filed with the signatures of 17 MPs, according to the Majlis secretariat.

Under article 101(a), “A motion expressing want of confidence in a member of the Cabinet may be moved in the People’s Majlis, under the hand of at least ten members, specifying the reasons.”

“Challenging separation of powers”

In a separate ruling, the Supreme Court also issued an injunction ordering parliament not to appoint a new member to the Civil Service Commission (CSC) pending a ruling on the legality of parliament’s dismissal of the CSC’s former chair, Mohamed Fahmy Hassan.

Fahmy had filed a case contesting the legality of his removal from the independent institution on November 20 on the grounds that he had allegedly sexual harassed a female employee.

“What is at stake is the supremacy of the parliament as the representative of the people. By its actions, the Supreme Court is challenging the separation of powers that underpins the constitutional basis of governance,” MDP MP Eva Abdulla told Minivan News yesterday.

In its stay orders, the Supreme Court referred to article 144(b) of the constitution, which states: “When deciding a constitutional matter within its jurisdiction, a court may in connection with a declaration pursuant to the article make any order that is just and equitable, including an […] suspending the declaration of invalidity (of a statute, regulation or action due to inconsistency with the Constitution) for any period and on any conditions, to allow the competent authority to correct the defect.”

Kutti NasheedMeanwhile, Independent MP for Kulhudhufushi South, Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed, contended in his blog yesterday (December 12) that the Supreme Court did not have the legal or constitutional authority to issue the injunctive orders against parliament.

Moreover, the Supreme Court “does not have the power to even accept those cases,” he wrote.

Article 88(b) of the constitution states: “Unless otherwise specified in this constitution, the validity of any proceedings in the People’s Majlis shall not be questioned in any court of law.”

Nasheed argued that decisions made by parliament could not be challenged in court except in instances clearly specified in the constitution.

The purpose of article 88 was to prevent parliament’s decisions being challenged or overturned, Nasheed said, as in the absence of such a clause the Supreme Court would become a “People’s Appeal Majlis” with supremacy over the house of elected representatives.

“If every decision of the People’s Majlis is appealed at the Supreme Court in the manner that any judgement by the High Court can be appealed at the Supreme Court, then there is no difference between the People’s Majlis and the High Court,” Nasheed wrote.

This was against the separation of powers envisioned in the constitution, Nasheed said, which vested legislative powers in parliament and clearly specified instances where its decisions could be challenged at court.