Nasheed disregards MDP three-line whip, continues to oppose constitutional amendment

Parliament Speaker, former President Mohamed Nasheed wears a mask to protect from the spread of the new coronavirus as he presides over a parliamentary sitting on May 26, 2020. (Photo/People's Majlis)

Parliament Speaker, former President Mohamed Nasheed, on Wednesday, spoke against the three-line whip issued by his party’s parliamentary group to support the constitutional amendment drafted by the government to extend the term of incumbent councilors.

The constitutional amendment was submitted to the Parliament on behalf of the government by Biledhdhoo MP Ahmed Haleem. It, coupled with a sunset law to postpone the local council elections as late as January 6 next year, is designed to remedy the legal vacuum the country will face, once the term of its incumbent councilors expires on June 3.

While the sunset bill was passed in late April, opinion over the proposed constitutional amendment is divided.

Following this difference of opinion, the ruling MDP parliamentary group gathered for a vote on issuing a three-line whip to support the constitutional amendment on Tuesday. The decision passed with a majority vote of 41 out of 54 parliamentarians who attended the meeting.

The Constitution establishes the term of incumbent councilors to be three years, as the later extension of the term of councilors to five years does not apply to incumbent councilors, who had been elected prior to the amendment.

Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath has stated that a general law cannot be used to override a provision of the Constitution, and that the only solution was to amend the provision – an opinion shared by the Parliament’s Counsel General Fathimath Filza.

At the parliamentary sitting on Wednesday morning, Nasheed said the Constitution had a “switch” to extend the term of councilors.

He said that the “switch” in question was Article 231 (a), which states that councils established to run administrative divisions must be composed of members who are elected via a secret ballot in accordance with the principles of democracy by constituents of the respective councils.

“What I’m saying is, if I’m reading this bill right; once it’s passed… the Constitution has another provision regarding extension of the term. Provisions of the Constitution must not contradict each other,” he said.

Nasheed asked that parliamentarians take time to reflect on it.

He said that parliamentarians found it difficult to accept the legal opinion issued by the Attorney General and the Counsel General regarding the amendment.

“We need a legal opinion regarding these constitutional provisions,” he said.

Several other MDP parliamentarians have also voiced against the three-line whip.

Nasheed encouraged parliamentarians to vote as they felt best, stating that no one except for the constituents of respective parliamentarians must be allowed to influence their votes.