The Maldives has appointed a new Supreme Court and narrowly averted constitutional catastrophe, after a series of parliamentary sessions today demonstrated remarkable and uncharacteristic cooperation between the two major parties.
Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz took the oath of office this evening in a ceremony at the President’s Office, and then administered the oath to five of the other appointed judges. The sixth, Muthasim Adnan, was out out of country.
Earlier this week a surge in political partisanship, caused by disagreement over the interim period set out in the Constitution and the locking of the Supreme Court by the military, had threatened to derail the process and leave the Maldives without its highest judicial authority.
On Tuesday morning parliament approved the amended judges bill 71 in favour, out of 73 members present. It was quickly ratified by President Nasheed shortly after lunchtime.
The new Judges Act enshrines judicial independence, governing ethical standards and rules on appointment and dismissal, as well as powers, responsibilities and practicalities such as salaries and allowances. The law also requires serving judges to meet a certain standards within seven years, or face dismissal.
“This law goes a long way to filling the constitutional void the country has been in since Sunday,” said the President’s Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair.
Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader MP Ali Waheed meanwhile resigned from the from the parliamentary committee on independent state bodies, after voting against his party.
“Ali Waheed voted in the committee against the party’s decision. I am saddened because Ali Waheed resigned after breaking the three-line whip and I condemn his action,” DRP MP Ahmed Mahloof told newspaper Haveeru. Mahlouf has been nominated to replace Waheed on the committee.
A night of relief
That evening, after committee deliberations, the chamber unanimously approved the Supreme Court bench nominated by President Nasheed following rapid consultation with the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), who, down to just six members present, narrowly made quorum.
The new seven-member Supreme Court bench consists of: Former Chief Justice Abdullah Saeed, interim Supreme Court Judge Sheikh Abdullah Areef, Ahmed Muthasim Adnan, Counsellor General of Parliament Dr Ahmed Abdullah Didi, and High Court Judges Ali Hameed Mohamed and Mohamed Abdullah.
Parliament also approved the president’s original nomination for Chief Justice, Ahmed Faiz Hussain.
The President’s member on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), Aishath Velezinee, described Faiz as “a well-respected man amongst the judges. I have never heard anybody question his independence or impartiality. He is a learned man and amongst all the politicking and hanky-panky going on, he has maintained his integrity.”
A senior government source said while the government was “not happy with every member of the [Supreme Court] bench, the President decided to bank a win. The mood is not one of jubilation, but of relief.”
Speaking to Minivan News after the vote, Velezinee said it was “a relief that we have passed through a moment which could have become really bad had the political parties not worked together and showed strength and goodwill towards the nation.”
“I hope that we will be able to reevaluate all the judges, including the reappointees. I haven’t read the documents yet, but I believe it is possible. However today is a day of relief as we begin the holy fasting month of Ramazan, after which we will get back to work improving the judiciary.”