The main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) is preparing to mount a legal challenge to the dismissal of Thulhaadhoo Councillor Umaira Abubakur after the Elections Commission (EC) yesterday announced a by-election for August 20 to replace the party’s sole representative on the five-member island council.
The DRP contend that four councillors of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) conducted emergency meetings while Umaira was attending a workshop as part of “a planned effort” to remove her from the post.
Article 119(b) of the Decentralisation Act states that a councillor can be removed if he or she misses seven consecutive meetings “without offering a valid reason that is acceptable to the council.” Umaira did not attend ten meetings which took place while she was ostensibly participating in a workshop in Bandos Island Resort.
Speaking to Minivan News today, DRP Deputy Leader Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef lambasted both the MDP-majority Thulhaadhoo council for “abusing the law to silence a minority voice” and the EC for “failing to carry out their responsibility.”
“The dismissal was unfair, unjust and completely against democratic principles,” he said, warning that the EC’s decision to uphold the council’s dismissal could set “a very dangerous” precedent.
Island councils where one party had a majority might be encouraged to arbitrarily dismiss minority members, Shareef suggested, which could “plunge the nation into chaos and anarchy.”
Moreover, the MDP councillors’ dismissal of the only female member of the council amounted to “discrimination against women.”
Shareef said that a delegation from the DRP held a meeting with members of the EC today, “but what we saw from them was arrogance.”
“The mandate of the Elections Commission is not just holding elections,” he said, adding that the commission was “not independent anymore.”
Shareef claimed that as a result of the ruling party’s new majority in parliament, the EC was “forced” to act in the government’s interest.
“I will recommend the DRP council to look into the independence of the Elections Commission,” he said.
EC Chair Fuad Thaufeeq told Minivan News today that the commission had received letters of complaint from both the dismissed councillor and some members of the Baa Atoll Council.
“But this is not a concern of the atoll council,” Fuad explained. “It is up to the island council and in this case a member was removed by the other four councillors.”
Fuad added that the EC did not have the authority to either postpone or cancel the by-election unless ordered to do so by a court order.
“The law does not say that the atoll council can overrule a decision made by an island council,” he said. “Only a court of law can invalidate the decision. We will stop the election immediately if there is a court order.”
Thulhaadhoo Council Chair Ahmed Rasheed told Minivan News earlier this week that the decision to dismiss Umaira was taken after consultation with the Local Government Authority (LGA) and based on legal counsel from the Attorney General’s Office.
“She did not inform in writing as she was required by law either before she left or during her holiday,” he insisted.
While confirming that six of the ten meetings in question were emergency sessions, Rasheed however denied the DRP allegation of actively plotting to dismiss Umaira.