Friday, June 27, 2008

Maldives to get a flawed constitution

After spending five years in the comfortable and cool chambers of Constituent Assembly, the members of the Assembly have finally completed the amendment of constitution. Even though the amended constitution will give more freedom and liberties to the Maldivian people than the current constitution, it is a flawed constitution with several inconsistencies. It is hardly a constitution which can be hailed as a milestone or even remarkable.

Though separation of powers is a hallmark of a Presidential System, there are several flaws that will decrease the accountability of the Executive and the Parliament.

1. Bicameral Parliament

During debates at Special Majlis our MPs just dismissed the idea of a bicameral parliament without even a sound debate and decided that Maldives should have a unicameral parliament. They did not consult their constituents much before making their decision. The reason is obvious: these MPs who are hopeful of future re-election, are not ignorant of the power, influence and benefits they can reap out in a single chamber parliament.

But we call for a bicameral parliament in the Maldives because two chambers work to check and balance the work of each chamber. We find examples of bicameral parliaments in countries with presidential system as well as parliamentary system. Examples include USA, UK, India, Japan and Australia. Wikipedia outlines some of the benefits of such a parliament.

A 2005 report on democratic reform in the Arab world by the US Council on Foreign Relations co-sponsored by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright urged Arab states to adopt bicameralism, with upper chambers appointed on a 'specialised basis'. The Council claimed that this would protect against the 'tyranny of the majority', expressing concerns that without a system of checks and balances extremists would use the single chamber parliaments to restrict the rights of minority groups.

2. Mid-term elections

One of the most important features of a Presidential System is mid-term elections. Mid-term elections make the Parliament more accountable. If mid-term elections comes with a bicameral parliament it creates more accountability and checks and balances. For example, in the USA all members of House of Representatives are elected every two years in mid-term elections while some members of Senate are also elected in mid-term elections. However, our MPs have decided to have a five-year term for the parliament. Instead of this our parliament should consist of two houses with one of them facing elections every two years.

3. Four-year term for President

We believe the term of five-years for a President is too long as one person can rule for ten years if he or she can win two-terms. The two-term restriction for one person is excellent. However, we believe the term of a President must be four years and not five years. During the four-year term a mid-term election must be held to elect members of one of the chambers in a bicameral parliament.

Without these crucial elements the amended constitution will be a farce of a presidential system, a constitution that will be pushed down the throats of ordinary Maldivian citizens by the members of Special Majlis and ratified by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Asia's longest ruling dictator.
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