EC dismissals: Majlis says commissioners’ removal was unconstitutional

The People’s Majlis has written to the chief justice and the attorney general, stating that the president and vice president of the Election Commission (EC) were removed contrary to the constitutional procedures governing their appointment and dismissal.

The letter – signed by Speaker Abdulla Shahid and Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim – also noted that the move contravened the Elections Commission Act.

According to Majlis, the content of the letter was based on legal advice of parliament’s counsel general after her analysis of the Supreme Court’s verdict.

The Supreme Court yesterday sentenced EC President Fuwad Thowfeek to six months imprisonment under Article 88(a) of the penal code, and ordered the enforcement of the sentence be delayed for a period of three years.

The verdict also declared that Fuwad and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz had “lost the right and legal status to remain members of the commission and that the pair’s seats on the commission have become vacant”.

The letter stated that it was the People’s Majlis which is tasked with the appointment and removal of EC members, and that for any given reason a member of that commission can only be removed by a simple majority of votes in a parliament sitting as “clearly stated” in Article 177 of the constitution and Article 14 of the Elections Commission Act.

“Referring to the said article of the constitution and the elections commission act, it is clear that the authority to appoint and remove member from that commission is especially reserved for the People’s Majlis without the involvement of any other party.”

The letter also said that the removal of the pair by the Supreme Court contravenes the procedures specified in Article 177 of the constitution and Articles 5, 10, and 14 of the EC Act.

The letter referred to a number of statements from the Supreme Court’s verdict nullifying parliament’s removal of Mohamed Fahmy Hassan from the Civil Service Commission (CSC) in March last year.

The Majlis today noted that the constitutional procedures for removing EC members and CSC members were the same, saying that the court’s previous ruling had said the following:

“It is clear from the letter of the constitution that the constitution does not allow any of the three powers of the state to carry out the constitutional jurisdiction or functions of another, and that it is clearly stated that the system of separation of powers, and check and balance established between three powers by constitution is an principal feature of the constitutional system and the constitution of the Maldives.”

Referring to the same verdict, the letter said that the court had stated that “all powers of the state should fulfil their jurisdictions and functions within the constitutional limits set for that power by the constitution”.

The same ruling also stated that constitutional procedures regarding independent institutions are there to ensure their independence. In this regard, the verdict noted that tasking the executive with appointment, the parliament with removal and accountability, and the chief justice with oath taking are also check and balance procedures established under the constitutional principle of separation of powers.


Finance Ministry restrictions will not obstruct Majlis polls, says EC

The Elections Commission (EC) has said that recent financial restrictions in acquiring the election budget will not have any impact on the upcoming parliamentary elections.

In all elections following the cancelled first round of last year’s presidential elections, the Ministry of Finance and Treasury have not released in bulk the total budget required for each election.

The ministry has instead been required to pays bills and release funds for individual requests after having reviewed if the expenditure fits the criteria of the programme.

Following yesterday’s second EC advisory committee meeting in preparations for the March vote, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said that the commission owed MVR12 million in pending bills after delays at the Finance Ministry.

A ministry official explained to Minivan News that, if the ministry is convinced the money is required for elections, there will not be any restrictions in releasing the funds. Though the decision was made at policy level, he acknowledged that  it might have been due to budget shortages.

EC President Fuwad Thowfeek has said that, even with these difficulties, the commission is able to mange the expenditures with cooperation from the ministry.

“We are managing. I can assure that these restrictions will not obstruct the election. It will be carried out as planned,” said Thowfeek.
Fuwad was also of the view that the restrictions could be the result of budget shortage.

“Now we are using the office budget mostly. But the Finance Ministry is releasing funds as we spend,” he noted.

Meanwhile, the parliament’s government accountability committee is planning to question the finance ministry regarding the issue. A committee member confirmed today that a request has been made.

The EC is currently on trial at the Supreme Court on contempt charges. After using newly introduced procedures to both initiate and oversee contempt of court charges against the EC, the court has subsequently deemed privileged Majlis testimony to be admissible in the case.

The EU, the Maldivian Democratic Party, and local civil society groups have all expressed concern over the case’s effect of the EC’s independence ahead of the March 22 Majlis elections.

The commission members have now been asked to attend the Supreme Court this Saturday (March 1) at 1:30pm to sign their statements.


Council elections to continue as scheduled even without candidate signatures

Local council elections will be held as scheduled on 18 January for all councils – with the exception of Villingili constituency of Gaafu Alif Atoll Council – even without the signatures of all candidates voters lists, the Elections Commission (EC) has said today.

EC President Fuwad Towfeek said the elections would be held as planned on Saturday from 7:30am till 4:30pm. He said that the signing of voters lists have been completed for just 81 out of 464 ballot boxes.

“It will be meaningless to continue with just these boxes, so we have decided to continue voting at all boxes,” Thowfeek said.

“Even though it is required we have experienced that it is an impossible task, so holding the election within the legally mandated time frame instead of going on with this would be best for the country,” he said.

The EC noted that all political parties have signed the voters list with the exception of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) who have not signed 62 of the lists. Instead of each candidate signing the lists, the EC has allowed the political parties which the candidates represent to sign on their behalf.

However, independent candidates still have to sign each list on their own, and this, according to EC is the biggest challenge regarding the voters list. Only 147 out of 543 independent candidates competing in the elections have signed the lists so far.

Thowfeek said some candidates have complained about not being able to afford traveling to capital Malé just to sign the lists, and requested the EC to pay for their expenses for staying in the capital.

The EC said they had sought the Attorney General’s legal advice on the matter in order to find a resolution, though the office has twice ignored their request.

Court’s impact on polls

A Supreme Court ruling annulling the first round of presidential elections in 2013 requires that all candidates in an election should sign the voters list at every single box in the country. The EC criticized the guideline as a restriction to carrying out its mandate.

EC President Thowfeek noted that, in contrast to the presidential elections, this election would be much more complex, with 2463 candidates running for a total 1100 seats – 951 island council , 132 atoll council and 17 city council seats.

“In the presidential elections a single ballot paper was used at all boxes, however in this election we are using 268 different ballot papers. Officials and voters should also pay attention to this,” he said.

This, according to Thowfeek, would make it more difficult to get the signatures of all candidates even if the voters lists are sent to each one.

According to the EC, the only council for which the election will be delayed is Gaafu Alifu Atoll Council election – which was delayed following a Supreme Court verdict concerning a candidate rejected by the EC.

The candidacy of Masud Ahmed for the Villingili seat was invalidated based on a Criminal Court document indicating a prior offence. However, when Masud challenged this decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the EC decision to reject his candidacy was itself invalid.

While Masud was sentenced for one year’s house arrest in 1995 for sexual misconduct with a then 18 year old, the Criminal Court said he had a record of “sexual abusing a child or ‘outraging modesty’ of a person”. The Supreme Court verdict pointed out that  Masud’s sentence does not fit into either of these categories.

EC member Ali Mohamed Manik said that, since the verdict came while the election was so near and the candidate will require time for his campaign, the Commission has decided to delay the constituency’s election.

Budget Shortage

EC members raised the issue of a budget shortage as a major challenge. Council elections were initially scheduled for December 2013 and so the funds were included in the 2013 budget. The funds were subsequently not included in the 2014 budget.

The total budget proposed by the EC for 2014 was MVR87 million – already cut down from required approximately MVR95 million to fit the ceiling set by the Finance Ministry – and was later reduced to MVR59 million.

The EC says this amount is sufficient for now, though the commission estimates that after the parliamentary elections this year there will not be any money left.

According to the Commission, there is a pending MVR30 million debt after the presidential elections and companies are refusing to issue services on a credit basis or to lend money to EC.

Commission members stated that they were fully prepared for the elections and that elections officials will start leaving for islands and abroad on Thursday.

While acknowledging that all institutions, including the Maldives Police Service, have assured their cooperation, EC President Thowfeek requested all state institutions, political parties, and members of the public to work with the commission to make the local elections a successful one.