AG too, says there is no legal objection to a constitutional amendment

Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath. (Sun Photo/Muzayyin Nazim)

Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath, on Monday, said that there was no legal ground to prevent an amendment to the Constitution to extend the term of incumbent councilors given the unavoidable postponement of the local council elections, despite the state of public health emergency in effect in Maldives.

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 sunset bill has been submitted to postpone the elections as late as January 6, 2021, and a separate constitutional amendment has been submitted to extend the term of incumbent councilors to address the legal vacuum which will result once the term of the incumbent councilors expires on June 3.

Before holding the first reading of the constitutional amendment this morning, Parliament Speaker, President Mohamed Nasheed, directed the attention of the Parliament towards Article 267 of the Constitution, which establishes that no constitutional amendment may be made during a state of emergency.

It led to parliamentarians engaging in debate over the interpretation of the ‘state of emergency’ in Article 267; on whether it referred to a state of emergency decreed by the President under Article 253, or whether a state of public health emergency declared by the Health Minister under the Public Health Act also fell within the context.

Following this difference of opinion within the Parliament, Attorney General Riffath issued a tweet in the afternoon, in which he said that the President had not invoked Article 267 to decree a state of emergency, and that there was therefore no legal ground to prevent a constitutional amendment.

“The term of councilors is fixed. Councils will not be in place after June 3 unless the Constitution is amended,” added Riffath, stressing on the need to make the amendment.

Speaker Nasheed had asked for the legal opinion of the Parliament’s Counsel General Fathimath Filza over the issue, and she too, counseled that there was no legal ground to prevent a constitutional amendment during the current situation.