Nasheed says he has ‘no personal opinion’ on constitutional revision, ends sitting

Speaker of Parliament, former President Mohamed Nasheed. (Photo/People's Majlis)

Parliament Speaker, Mohamed Nasheed, on Wednesday, said that he harbored no personal opinion regarding a constitutional amendment to extend the term of incumbent councilors until Maldives is able to elect new councilors, before abruptly ending the sitting.

The item in the agenda for Wednesday had been the first reading on a new sunset bill to extend the term of incumbent councilors, one which would not require a constitutional amendment.

The bill, titled “The Special Bill on Ensuring the Operation of Administrative Divisions of Maldives under Decentralization Policy 2020” was submitted to the Parliament by West Henveyru MP Hassan Latheef.

Nasheed, after opening the sitting and conducting the first reading of the bill, said that 57 parliamentarians had taken part in the debate over the appropriateness of a constitutional amendment over the past two days, and that only some six or so parliamentarians were unopposed to much a move.

He said that the remaining 50 or so parliamentarians were of the opinion that, even if the law allowed a constitutional amendment, now was not the right time to make such an amendment to extend the term of incumbent councilors.

Nasheed noted the MDP enjoyed a supermajority at the Parliament, and it could abuse the power by making constitutional amendments to extend the term of parliamentarians, or even the term of the President.

“So, I thought we must approach this responsibly. This is not about me having or pushing a personal opinion,” he said.

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.

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

On Monday, when the first reading of the two bills had been scheduled, 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.

Both the Parliament’s Counsel General Fathimath Fizla, and the Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath said the state of emergency which Article 267 refers to is the one which is decreed by the President by invoking Article 253, and that there is no legal obstacle to making a constitutional amendment as long as the President has not decreed a state of emergency.

But the debate spilled over to Tuesday, when parliamentarians continued to express reservations over a constitutional amendment.

It was what had let to the submission of Hassan Latheef’s bill, which’s first reading was held this Wednesday.

Nasheed said that some legal experts may call the bill as one which violates the law.

“Now I wonder, to which carpenter should we run to? Whether there’s any carpenter with a blade. You, honorable parliamentarians, will have blades on your knives. I wish for you to exhibit intelligence and wisdom in providing a solution to these issues. I don’t have any personal opinion regarding this,” he said, noting that Hassan Latheef himself was an attorney-at-law.

Nasheed said that he would respect the wishes of parliamentarians, whether they wished to make a constitutional amendment, or whether they chose not to.

He said that if Hassan Latheef’s bill was found lacking, he would reject the bill before it is accepted into the parliamentary floor for deliberation, and that the bill could also be rejected with a no-vote after committee evaluation, if need be.

He repeated that he did not have any personal opinion regarding the subject, and concluded the sitting.