The Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional a recent amendment to the Parliament’s Standing Orders, which altered the procedure for counting the total number of parliamentarians. The ruling, which underscores the intricate balance between legislative procedures and constitutional mandates, has ignited a debate on the representation and integrity of parliamentary processes.

The controversy began when the Parliament introduced changes to its Standing Orders, effectively modifying the method for calculating the total number of members, which had a direct impact on impeachment proceedings.

This amendment allowed for the impeachment of the President or Vice-President with fewer lawmakers than the constitutionally required number. The total strength of the current parliament is 87 members, with the Constitution stipulating that a two-thirds majority is necessary for such critical votes.

The amendment came under scrutiny when several lawmakers from the ruling party resigned to assume senior government roles, leaving vacancies that could not be filled through by-elections due to timing constraints. The opposition, holding a majority, then pushed through an amendment that would count only the sitting members of Parliament, disregarding the vacant seats.

The Attorney General’s Office challenged this amendment, leading to the Supreme Court’s review. The court highlighted that the Constitution clearly outlines the majority requirements for different parliamentary decisions, emphasising the need for broader representation in deciding significant matters. Each parliamentary seat, the Court noted, represents thousands of constituents, making every seat a critical voice of the people.

The Supreme Court’s decision pointed out the lack of justification for the amendment, stating that the Parliament already had the requisite majority for daily proceedings and constitutional amendments. The ruling criticised the amendment as serving no purpose other than to bolster politically motivated decisions by the majority party.

Although the contested articles in the Standing Orders were annulled, the essence of the amendment was relocated to another section, a move the Court found to be in direct violation of constitutional provisions. The ruling emphasised that the manner of counting parliamentarians must include all seats, regardless of vacancies, to preserve the constitutional mandate and the representation of the electorate.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has taken a stance that suggests no immediate changes to the parliamentary procedures are warranted. 

In a press conference, MDP’s Parliamentary Campaign Spokesperson Kendhikulhudhoo MP Ahmed Easa noted that the Supreme Court’s ruling addressed the amendment before the case was submitted, implying that subsequent amendments remain unaffected. “The Supreme Court ruled today on the amendment that was brought to the standing order before the case was submitted. However, I interpret the ruling as allowing us to proceed with the amendment brought to the Standing Order later on,” he stated, suggesting continuity in the Parliament’s current operations.

Easa further highlighted that the President does not have the authority to question the legality of Parliament’s actions, asserting that such powers reside solely with the Supreme Court. 

This statement comes in the wake of President Dr Mohamed Muizzu’s concerns regarding the application of the new total member count during the passage of amendments to the General Elections Act, which sought to postpone the upcoming parliamentary elections. 

The president has sought legal counsel from the Attorney General on how to proceed, ensuring any actions taken would align with the Constitution and laws.