Parliament has been the stage for a fiery debate over the proposed amendments to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), with MPs from the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and opposition parties, particularly The Democrats, trading barbs over the issue. The divide appears to stem from differing perceptions of the government’s sincerity and intent behind the proposed reforms.

The amendments, initially submitted by the government on 19 June, propose fixing the number of JSC members at seven, while removing several existing positions, including the President’s representative, the Speaker of Parliament, and the President of the Civil Service Commission. Parliament’s Majority Leader, North Hithadhoo MP Mohamed Aslam, presented the bill, indicating that it is in line with President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s electoral pledge.

MDP’s argument for the amendment hinges on the claim that it aims to “free the judiciary” from political influence. They accuse The Democrats and other opposition parties of stalling the process. In a recent session, MDP MP Ibrahim Shareef alleged that the delay in moving the bill, introduced in June and first heard only last month, was caused by The Democrats.

Contrarily, The Democrats argue that the ruling party has no genuine intention of reforming the JSC. According to Central Henveiru MP, Minority Leader Ali Azim, the current administration has shown no commitment to judicial reform, and thus the amendments are insincere. The Democrats’ Chairperson, West Henveiru MP Hassan Latheef, pointed out that the proposed composition contradicts MDP’s own pledges.

Hassan Latheef raised a pertinent issue concerning the legislative process, stating that the Constitution must be amended before any changes to the JSC Act can take place. This, he says, ensures that the amended Act does not end up being unconstitutional. MDP, however, argues that both bills—the Constitutional amendment and the Commission Act amendment—could be moved together.

MP Azim of The Democrats suggested that an independent judiciary could be better guaranteed by composing the JSC of honourably retired judges and knowledgeable public representatives, a practice followed in many foreign countries. Such a move would supposedly fulfil the original MDP pledge of reforming the judiciary, albeit not in the way currently proposed by the government.

PNC MP Adam Shareef accused the MDP of irresponsibility, claiming that despite having a supermajority in parliament, the party has failed to bring about effective judicial reform, taking advantage of the law after coming to power.

Amid the political back-and-forth, what appears to be lost is a balanced discussion aimed at genuine reform. As it stands, the debate has not only questioned the sincerity of parties involved but raised the alarm whether parliamentarians can transcend the political fracas to collaboratively ensure a judiciary that is genuinely free from undue influence.