The Parliament, on Monday, engaged in debate over whether a constitutional amendment during the state of public health emergency which has been declared in Maldives over the COVID-19 pandemic, is legal.
The government has presented an amendment to the Constitution, designed to extend the term of incumbent councilors, in order to redress the legal vacuum which will result from a further postponement of the Local Council Elections 2020.
Maldives invoked a state of public emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic on March 12, and the Local Council Elections, which was originally scheduled for April 4, has been postponed to April 18.
A separate sunset bill has been submitted to postpone the elections as late as January 6, 2021.
Before holding the first reading of the constitutional amendment this morning, Parliament Speaker, President Mohamed Nasheed questioned the legality of a constitutional amendment during the state of public health emergency which is in effect.
Nasheed said that the Constitution expressly prohibited any constitutional amendment during a state of emergency.
“The Constitution says no constitutional amendment must be made during a state of emergency. I therefore find we need to reconsider this,” said Nasheed, referring to Article 267.
Nasheed noted that the current nationwide emergency in effect was a public health emergency, and had not been decreed by the President.
He said that it was therefore important to deliberate on the spirit of Article 267.
“Therefore, we must today debate on what legal situation the Maldives currently is in. If this is a state of emergency, we cannot amend the Constitution. Therefore, we must establish what this situation is,” said Nasheed.
Addu Maradhoo MP Ibrahim Shareef opinioned that a constitutional amendment may still be made, until and unless the President decrees a state of emergency.
He said the easiest solution to the issue was for the President to declare a state of emergency, citing the pandemic, and suspend certain laws under Article 253.
“Otherwise, such technical issues will keep on arising. Many countries have declared emergencies over the pandemic.
North Maafannu MP Imthiyaz Fahmy said the Parliament cannot continue with the bill if the state of public health emergency fell within the context of a state of emergency as defined by the Constitution.
He said that the Article 267 did not expressly say a state of emergency where constitutional amendments are prohibited must be one which is decreed by the President himself.
“I don’t find any cause why the state of public health emergency in effect should not fall within the context of the state of emergency which Article 267 of the Constitution refers to. The end result is the same,” he said.
Several parliamentarians also questioned the decision to declare a state of public health emergency in in Maldives itself.