Nasheed wishes to consult with Supreme Court over disputed 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 Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed, on Wednesday, said the Parliament needed to seek an opinion from the Supreme Court regarding the constitutional amendment to extend the term of incumbent councilors.

Elections Commission (EC) had filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking for a postponement of the local council elections and the women’s development committee elections in March. But the petition was retracted based on Nasheed’s assurance that the remedy to the issue will be found within the legislative system and not the courts.

With the term of incumbent councilors set to expire on June 3, the Parliament has yet to produce a remedy to the legal vacuum it will plunge the country into.

In a bid to remedy the issue, the government has submitted a constitutional amendment to extend the term of incumbent councilors, designed to work alongside a sunset law to postpone the local council elections as late as January 6 next year passed in late April.

However, MDP, which enjoys a supermajority in the Parliament, is deeply divided over the constitutional amendment.

And while the MDP parliamentary group passed a three-line whip to vote in support of the constitutional amendment on Tuesday; several parliamentarians have openly stated that they will not comply with the whip.

Both the Attorney General and the Parliament’s Counsel General have made their legal opinions known regarding the subject.  They have stated that stated that a general law cannot be used to override a provision of the Constitution, and that the only solution was to amend the Constitution.

Nasheed, at the parliamentary sitting on Wednesday, said parliamentarians found it difficult to accept the legal opinion of the Attorney General and the Counsel General.  

“Neither a parliamentary committee nor the Parliament itself has been able to come to a unanimous agreement over or find contentment over what the Attorney General had to say. And hearts are heavy over what the Counsel General said too,” he said.

Nasheed said that according to the Constitution, the next source of a legal opinion over the issue was the Supreme Court.

He was referring to Article 95, which establishes that the Parliament may by resolution refer to the Supreme Court to seek its opinion regarding important questions of law, including questions over the interpretation of the Constitution or the validity of any statute.

And the Supreme Court is required to answer the questions, and provide the answers to the Parliament along with the reasons for the answers. The opinion of the court is also required to be pronounced in like manner as in case of a judgment on appeal.

“I see on the law that this path may provide us with a temporary remedy,” said Nasheed.

Those who oppose the constitutional amendment argue that the coronavirus outbreak in the country minimized the room for debate among the people regarding the people, and that making a constitutional amendment without providing room for debate went against the spirit of the Constitution.