MDP lawmakers unhappy over Speaker Aslam’s total seat count

Speaker Mohamed Aslam chairs a parliamentary sitting. (Photo/People's Majlis)

Several lawmakers from the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) expressed unhappiness on Tuesday, after Speaker Mohamed Aslam, also a member of MDP, declared the total number of seats at the Parliament as 87.

In light of the Supreme Court ruling in February, which established that the Parliament cannot disregard seats of lawmakers who resign when counting the total, Aslam proposed repealing an amendment to the Parliament’s Standing Orders which conflicts with the ruling.

Opening Tuesday morning’s sitting, Aslam said that given the Supreme Court had found the amendment unconstitutional, he proposes repealing it.

He announced that the total number of seats was 87, and that the Parliament therefore needs a quorum of 22 lawmakers to hold the sitting.

“We cannot conduct any work at the Parliament [without determining this first]. There shouldn’t be a redundant clause in the Parliament’s Standing Orders. It must be removed,” he said.

Aslam said the Supreme Court issued its judgement within its legal purview. He said that the Parliament cannot hold any vote until it makes a decision first.

But the remarks sparked anger from some of his party members.

MDP’s parliamentary group leader, Alifushi MP Mohamed Rasheed Hussain (Bigey), said he had a hard time listening to Aslam announce the total number of seats as 87.

“It wasn’t easy for me to hear it announced that the total is 87, by treating an active provision as dead,” he said.

Bigey said he found there to be multiple “wrongs” with the top court’s judgement.

Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker Ahmed Saleem (Salle) also expressed concern over Aslam’s decision. He said that Aslam, when proposing something to the Parliament, cannot implement it before the legislative body makes its decision first.

“I believe the presidency already made a decision regarding the ruling, the moment it declared that the total number of members of this Parliament is 87,” he said.

“I wonder what we are to talk about this subject when the presidency already made its decision when starting the sitting. I believe we need the opinion of the counsel general regarding this matter,” he said.

Salle asked for time for parliamentary groups and lawmakers to discuss the situation among themselves before the Parliament makes as decision.

Seven lawmakers resigned from the Parliament in November, to assume top positions in President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu’s administration. But the Elections Commission decided against holding by-elections, so close to the parliamentary elections.

Taking advantage of the situation, the MDP – which holds a majority in the Parliament – amended the Parliament’s Standing Orders so that vacated seats aren’t counted when determining the total number of seats.

The amendment was contested by the government at the Supreme Court, which, on February 29, found the provision unconstitutional.

But ahead of the judgement, the Parliament had transferred the controversial provision to another article.

Despite the top court’s ruling, MDP continues to support disregarding the vacated seats and counting the total as 80, instead of 87.

Tuesday’s sitting was therefore paused for a break as lawmakers discuss Aslam’s proposal.

Some of the lawmakers suggested during the debate that they do not need to follow the Supreme Court ruling, saying the top court does not have the power to formulate laws. They said the Parliament has the power to pass laws, even those that go against the top court’s judgements.