Parliament today approved a proposal by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) parliamentary group leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih for the speaker of parliament to assume the presidency in the absence of a president-elect by midnight on November 10.
Today’s sitting was held in response to a letter to Speaker Abdulla Shahid from President Dr Mohamed Waheed requesting parliament “to take initiative in finding a solution to any legal issues that will arise if a new president is not elected by the end of the current term [on November 11].”
As a possible second round of the presidential election has been scheduled by the Elections Commission (EC) for November 16, President Waheed’s letter (Dhivehi) noted that “there is a possibility there might not be a president elected in accordance with article 111 of the constitution.”
Solih’s proposal, seconded by MDP Chairperson and Hulhuhenveiru MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, was passed with 39 votes in favour and one abstention. MPs of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and Jumhooree Party (JP) did not participate in the vote, claiming that the proposal was unconstitutional.
In the event that a new president is not elected by November 11, the motion states, “The Speaker of Parliament shall carry out the duties of the President until a person can be elected to the office.”
As interim president, the speaker “shall have all powers granted to the President by the constitution.”
The motion added that if the speaker cannot assume the office, the duties shall pass to the deputy speaker. If both are unable, a member of parliament elected by a resolution shall assume the presidency.
Moreover, the motion stipulates that a presidential election and, if necessary, a second round run-off election should take place within 21 days of the speaker assuming the role of caretaker president.
The new president-elect and vice president-elect must take the oath of office no more than 18 hours after the EC announces the official results of the election.
A second motion proposed by MDP MP Ali Waheed to grant authority and discretion to the speaker to expedite decisions required by parliament “to prepare for the interim period” was passed with 37 votes in favour, two against and one abstention.
Speaker Shahid joined the MDP in April.
“State of necessity”
Article 124(b) of the constitution states, “In the event of the permanent incapacity, resignation, removal or death of both the President or the Vice President, and both offices becoming vacant at the same time, leading to an incapacity to carry out the duties of the President, until such time as a President and a Vice President shall be elected, the duties of both offices shall temporarily be carried out, in order of priority, by the Speaker of the People’s Majlis, or by the Deputy Speaker of the People’s Majlis, or by a member of the People’s Majlis elected by a resolution of the People’s Majlis, until successors in office are chosen.”
During today’s parliamentary debate, PPM MPs contended that the Speaker cannot assume the presidency without amending the constitution as there was no constitutional provision for the state of affairs in the absence of a president-elect after the expiry of the five-year presidential term.
Dhivehi Qaumee Party MP Riyaz Rasheed said if parliament passed the MDP’s proposal, he would file a case at the Supreme Court to invalidate it.
JP MP Ilham Ahmed meanwhile proposed that the military should take over if presidential elections are not concluded by November 11.
As the constitution states that the security services are established “to enable all Maldivians to live in peace, security and freedom,” Ilham said he believed executive powers should be handed to the security services, consisting of the police and military.
The JP deputy leader added that he could see “as clear as broad daylight” an impending takeover “by the benevolence of Allah.”
PPM MP Ahmed Shareef recommended referring the matter to the Supreme Court for legal advice, while MP Ali Arif declared the PPM’s support for President Waheed remaining in the post after November 11.
Speaking at a rally on Friday night, PPM presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen reportedly said it would be “irresponsible” for President Waheed to resign before a new president was elected.
The PPM parliamentary group leader called on President Waheed to remain in the post and cease making statements about resigning, adding that it was the PPM that “maintained your government.”
MP Arif noted that the Supreme Court stated in its judgment annulling the September 7 election that the current president could remain in the absence of a president-elect.
“If extra time beyond that given by the constitution is needed, under the principle of necessity, to complete a specific task as specified in the constitution, it does not necessitate the end of a legal government in place. That such a government will continue to exist under the doctrines of ‘state of necessity’ and ‘continuity of legal government’ under such circumstances is recognised by both constitutional and legal jurisprudence,” the Supreme Court stated in the case summary of its judgment.
Independent MP for Kulhudhufushi Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed said that the current administration could not continue after November 11, suggesting that a constitutional amendment was necessary to specify a process to be followed in the absence of a president-elect.
Nasheed cautioned that any motion or resolution passed by parliament in lieu of a constitutional amendment could be overruled by the Supreme Court. The independent MP abstained in both votes today.