The Supreme Court has concluded hearing a petition filed by former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, the opposition Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) presidential candidate, seeking to overturn the Elections Commission’s rejection of his candidacy for the upcoming presidential election.

The electoral body rejected Yameen’s candidacy on Tuesday, citing Article 109(f) of the Constitution as the basis for its decision. The constitutional provision states that a presidential candidate should not have been convicted of a criminal offense and sentenced to a term of more than twelve months unless a period of three years has elapsed since their release or pardon for the offense in question.

Former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom speaks during the Supreme Court hearing on Friday (Photo: Screengrab/Supreme Court of the Maldives)

Yameen, who is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence for charges of bribery and money laundering, failed to meet the eligibility criteria set forth in the constitution, according to the Elections Commission (EC).

Yameen’s legal defence revolves around the argument that the criminal conviction or judgment referred to in Article 109 must be a final decision. During the hearing, Hamza Latheef, the lawyer representing the former president, argued that Yameen should be allowed to participate in the election despite the ruling of a lower court.

A judgment is deemed to be final when the lower court’s decision is upheld by two higher courts, Hamza said at the hearing. Even if the Supreme Court does not hear a case, the judgment becomes final if it is not appealed within the designated appeal period.

Lawyer Hamza referenced Article 69 of the Constitution to support his argument.

Article 69 of the Constitution states: “No provision of the Constitution shall be interpreted or translated in a manner that would grant to the State or any group or person the right to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of the rights and freedoms set out in this Constitution.”

“In this case, there is the right of appeal, the three stages of the trial is a right guaranteed to every individual by the Constitution, and the electoral right, which means that an individual can contest [the presidential election] a maximum of eight times,” Hamza said.

Election Commission lawyer Mahfooz Saeed said the Constitution would allow serious criminals to run for the presidency and other positions in the state if the criminal conviction or judgment mentioned in Article 109 was interpreted as the final. There are also specific conditions that apply to criminal convictions for various positions, including members of Parliament, members of the Cabinet, various state institutions, and members of independent institutions, he added.

If it is interpreted as a final judgement, there is a possibility of criminals in any of these positions, Mahfooz said. However, he does not believe that the mindset of the members of Parliament who drafted the Constitution would have intended that or could have envisaged such a scenario.

The Elections Commission, Yameen, and the Attorney General’s office were afforded the opportunity to present their arguments and responses during the hearing, which commenced at 4 p.m. on Friday.

The case was heard by a full bench of seven justices of the Supreme Court. The hearing was concluded with the announcement by Chief Justice Ahmed Muthasim Adnan that a verdict on the case would be delivered at the next hearing.