The Supreme Court’s ‘power grab’

The Supreme Court issued 11-point guideline dictating the human rights watchdog’s roles and responsibilities will force it to “work like a ministry or an extension of the government instead of an independent body,” a commission member who wished to remain anonymous has said.

The apex court yesterday declared a rights assessment submitted by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) as unlawful and barred the office from communicating with foreign organizations without government oversight.

The 11-point guideline also orders the HRCM to protect unity, peace and order, and uphold Maldivian norms, faith, etiquette and the rule of law.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), civil society organizations and lawyers have also said the guideline undermines the commission’s independence, and have said the Supreme Court has infringed on the parliament’s mandate by “writing laws” for the HRCM.

The MDP noted the ruling was issued under controversial suo-moto regulations that allow the Supreme Court to prosecute and pass judgment.

“While the guardian of independent institutions is the parliament, the Supreme Court created a guideline and gave the verdict on charges the court itself brought against the HRCM, we note with concern that this verdict allows an independent institution created by the constitution to lose its independence,” the MDP said in a statement today.

Charges of treason were first pressed in September 2014 after the HRCM publicized a report it had submitted to the UN human rights council for the Maldives’ Universal Periodic Review.

Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed said the report was biased, encouraged terrorists and undermined judicial independence in the Maldives.

MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy said: “This is very concerning; this whole case was based on threatening an independent institution with unconstitutional charges because the commission fulfilled its constitutional and international obligations.”

Only the parliament can formulate guidelines for the state’s offices, he said. The guideline will bar the HRCM from investigating human rights violations without state approval as it requires the commission to cooperate with government offices and orders the HRCM not to overstep its mandate or “disrupt” the work of government offices.

Mohamed Thoriq Hamid, the program manager of advocacy NGO Transparency Maldives, said the verdict is part of “a continuing trend” in which the Supreme Court is undermining the work of the state’s independent institutions.

In March last year, the apex court sacked the Election Commission’s president and vice-president when they criticised a 16-point electoral guideline issued by the Supreme Court after annulling the first round of presidential elections in September 2013.

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the Anti-Corruption Commission was not authorized to suspend contracts even if they suspected corruption. The ACC president Hassan Luthfee at the time said the ruling rendered the ACC powerless to stop corruption even if it was carried out on a large scale.

Shahindha Ismail. the executive director of Maldivian Democracy Network, said the Supreme Court is “imposing more serious problems” on HRCM rather than “allying with the commission to overcome existing challenges”.

“This verdict just destroys all the work done for the promotion of democratic principles and the protection of Human Rights all over the world,” she added.

A lawyer who wished to remain anonymous said the Supreme Court’s verdict was an “unconstitutional power grab.”

“What we see in other democratic countries is judicial activism, but this case shows that what is going on here is judicial extremism,” he said.

The guideline has sparked outrage on Twitter.

The former speaker of Majlis, MP Abdulla Shahid said: “Another sad and horrifyingly wicked day for democracy and Human Rights in the Maldives.”


MDP should boycott polls unduly influenced by Supreme Court, says Nasheed

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) should not participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections if the Supreme Court exerts undue influence over the Elections Commission (EC), former President Mohamed Nasheed has said.

Speaking at a campaign event in Male’ last night, Nasheed contended that the Supreme Court’s summoning of EC members over alleged contempt of court was an attempt to “intimidate” the independent institution.

The apex court, in collusion with the ruling coalition, was planning to “play the same game they played in the presidential election,” the MDP’s former presidential candidate alleged, adding that the ‘Progressive Coalition’ was certain of facing defeat.

“In my view, an election conducted with the Supreme Court exerting influence over the Elections Commission to deliberately commit electoral fraud or rig the vote will not be a legitimate election – in my view, MDP should not participate in such an election,” Nasheed said.

Neither the international community nor the Maldivian public would accept general elections boycotted by the MDP, Nasheed said.

Nasheed referred to new regulations (Dhivehi) formulated by the Supreme Court last week to specify procedures for initiating cases on their own accord, correctly predicting that the court was planning to prosecute EC members.

“If the Supreme Court delays the election, meddles with the voters list and commits fraud after summoning the Elections Commissioner tomorrow [Wednesday] and intimidating Elections Commission members, I would say that the damage to our democracy and our country from participating in such a election would be greater [than not participating],” he said.

Nasheed claimed that the MDP lost last year’s presidential election because of “fraud and deception”.

“In my view, if we give up the Majlis election the same way, we are losing our future, the future of our children and children’s children,” he added.

A free and fair election in which the public has confidence is the foundation of democratic governance, Nasheed stressed.

“When there is no justice in voting, everything loses legitimacy,” he said.

Nasheed concluded his remarks by calling on the Supreme Court not to “muddle the entire future and hope of this nation.”

Meanwhile, appearing on MDP-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV last night, MP Ali Waheed claimed that the government was conspiring to postpone the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 22.

The MDP parliamentary group’s deputy leader said he had learned of plans to delay the polls in certain constituencies in a bid to ensure that the ruling coalition secures a majority.

“If they carry out these efforts again this time, we will bring the whole country to a halt,” he warned.

Troubled polls

Last year’s presidential election was marred by repeated delays, cancellations and police obstruction.

On October 7, the Supreme Court annulled the results of the first round of the polls conducted on September 7 in a controversial 4-3 decision – citing a confidential police report – despite unanimous positive assessment of the polling by more than a thousand domestic and international election observers.

While the secret police report alleging irregularities – which was not shared with the EC’s defence lawyers – was dismissed by a UN expert review, the credibility of the evidence cited by the apex court was also questioned by the Human Rights Commission of Maldives.

Following the first round in which Nasheed emerged the frontrunner with 45.45 percent of the vote, third-placed candidate Gasim Ibrahim sought annulment of the results alleging widespread electoral fraud.

Pending a ruling on the business magnate’s appeal, the Supreme Court indefinitely suspended the second round scheduled for September 28 and issued a supplementary midnight ruling ordering the police and military to forcibly prevent the EC from conducting the polls.

The EC had said it intended to comply with the constitutionally-mandated deadline for the run-off, but was forced to capitulate after it was surrounded by special operations police with orders to storm the building, arrest officials and confiscate ballot papers.

The eventual revote on October 19 was also obstructed by police, after Progressive Party of Maldives candidate Abdulla Yameen and Gasim refused to sign the voter registry – a requirement from a 16-point guideline imposed on the EC by the Supreme Court judgment.

The guidelines also compelled the EC to consider the Department of National Registry’s (DNR) database as the primary source for compiling the eligible voters registry.

While the revote was eventually held on November 9 and a second round was due to take place the next day, Yameen refused to sign the voter lists hours before polls were to open and the Supreme Court ordered the EC to conduct the run-off election on November 16.

In what was the EC’s sixth attempt in two months to conduct polls, Yameen narrowly defeated Nasheed with 51.39 percent of the vote (111,203) to the MDP candidate’s 48.61 percent (105,181).

Meanwhile, on January 18, Nasheed told reporters that the MDP suspected electoral fraud using fake national identity cards in November’s polls.

Nasheed contended that non-existent people were added to the database at the DNR as part of “efforts to rig the election through the Supreme Court.”

EC President Fuwad Thowfeek told the press last month that the commission was was forced to consider the DNR list as legitimate despite errors, such as citizens deemed deceased while alive.