In ordering a stay on the run-off round of polls to choose a new President, the Maldivian Supreme Court has unwittingly precipitated a constitutional crisis which will have far-reaching implications. A new President had to be sworn in by November 11 according to the Constitution, and, as Speaker of the People’s Majlis, Abdulla Shahid, has correctly pointed out, Article 107 of the Constitution stipulates that a presidential term is for five years. There is no provision to extend it. President Mohamed Waheed’s term — he was anointed in controversial circumstances on February 7, 2012 — ended on the night of November 10. The Supreme Court, which earlier had taken inordinately long to decide on the fairness of the first round of polls held on September 7 (which it finally annulled), went even further on November 9, and, in direct conflict with the Constitution, extended the term of the President till a new President is sworn in. Again, as the Speaker, who belongs to the aggrieved Maldivian Democratic Party, the largest party in the country, points out, according to Article 262, to amend the term of office of the President Article 107 would need to be revised and approved by a three-fourths majority of Parliament, and prior to being ratified by the President must receive majority support in a public referendum. On his part, Dr. Waheed, a former international civil servant conversant with legalities that are involved in his decision to stay on till November 16 (without pay), has contended that the Constitution is silent on a way forward. Hence to avoid a constitutional void, he submitted the issue to Parliament for a constitutional solution.
The plea that disrupted the second round of polls on Sunday has its merits — that one political party will not have enough time to be able to tell its supporters which way to vote. This was known earlier too, but was not brought up by any candidate in the several meetings they attended. From the sequence of events since September 7, it is clear that coalition partners in the Waheed government, which includes the party founded by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom after he returned to the country, the Progressive Party of Maldives, are not keen on holding the second round of polls. And, from the polling pattern it is very clear that the deeply divided country will vote to elect the MDP’s Mohamed Nasheed President as and when a second round is held. Surely, that is no reason to subvert the entire process. Elections must be held on November 16. The process of healing and rebuilding the fractured democracy cannot wait any longer.