The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday night that the seven cabinet ministers not endorsed by the opposition-majority parliament cannot remain in their posts.
Delivering the verdict, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussein noted that the Constitution did not state what should happen to rejected ministers, requiring the Supreme Court to make an interpretation.
All Supreme Court judges – with the exception of Judge Muthasim Adnan – ruled that ministers required the endorsement of parliament as stated in the Constitution.
However, the ministers would not be immediately dismissed, and would remain “employees” of the President until new nominees were put forward to parliament by the President.
President Mohamed Nasheed said during this week’s radio address that he would respect the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“When the Supreme Court rules that cabinet ministers cannot remain in office without the approval [of the People’s Majlis], it is compulsory for the President to follow that ruling”, President Nasheed said, emphasising that this evidence of an judiciary independent from the government was “a great achievement for the democratic process of the country.”
Health Minister Dr Aiminath Jameel, Youth Minister Hassan Latheef, Economic Minister Mahmood Razi, Housing Minister Mohamed Aslam and Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari were approved by parliament on November 22, during a vote that was boycotted by MPs from the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
Seven ministers – Finance Minister Ali Hashim, Education Minister Dr Musthafa Luthfy, Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed, Fisheries Minister Dr Ibrahim Didi, Home Minister Mohamed Shihab, Defence Minister Ameen Faisal and Attorney General Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad – did not receive a majority of votes from the 42 MPs in attendance.
Following the vote, Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, head of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), took the case to Supreme Court arguing that Ministers rejected by parliament should be dismissed from office.
Attorney General Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad was not responding to calls at time of press, but has previously said that “any interpretation [of the Constitution] whereby an appointed minister can be removed from his position by a simple majority, means that with parliament’s quorum of 20, 11 MPs can vote against cabinet and have ministers removed despite the constitution’s very detailed no confidence procedure.”
“Any interpretation that facilitates such instability in the political system is a very serious threat to our nation,” he stated.
The process of appointing cabinet members was criticised as ‘defective’ by Independent MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed, who claimed that the appointment process remained “beyond resolution” in such a highly partisan political environment.
“The [current] political environment is not conducive for a resolution within parliament,” he explained.
The cabinet resigned en masse in June protesting the “scorched-earth policies” of parliament, accusing the opposition majority of corrupt practices, deliberate obstruction and attempts to wrest executive control from the government.
Ministers were reappointed nine days later, making the cabinet vulnerable to the present ‘dismissal by procedure’.
The Supreme Court verdict is a firm rebuke to the government’s argument that approval of ministers by parliament is a “ceremonial” process and not tantamount to dismissal, and could be considered a victory for the opposition in retaliation for June’s publicity stunt.
However, the allowance for an unspecified interim period gives the government room to manoeuvre, and should Ministers remain in their posts as “employees”, is likely to spark fresh political turmoil over whether the government is adhering to the spirit of the ruling.
The ruling also increases pressure on the government to get the 2011 State Budget through parliament in the few remaining days of session before the end of the year.
The opposition has said it will not allow Finance Minister Ali Hashim to present the budget, however the government has argued that the budget was sent to parliament on December 1 and – against tradition – does not have to be presented in person.
Parliament’s regulations state that debate on the budget must commence within seven days of receiving the document and be decided upon seven days before the end of the year.