Wathan Edhey Gothah Coalition candidate Mohamed Nasheed (Anni) has thrown a spanner in the works by announcing a snap mid-term election if he becomes president. The news was greeted by a flurry of condemnatory terms ranging from 'unconstitutional', 'against the spirit of the Constitution', 'undependable' and 'untrustworthy'. Is this a mere storm in the tea cup or is there something more than meets the eye?
Not being Constitutional experts, most of us will not be able to understand the 'spirit of the Constitution.' But fortunately it's rather easy to read the letter of the Constitution, which is in plain Dhivehi. Here are the translations of some relevant clauses.
Clause 124 (b)
"In the event of the permanent incapacity, resignation, removal or death of both the President or the Vice President, and both offices becoming vacant at the same time, leading to an incapacity to carry out the duties of the President, until such time as a President and a Vice President shall be elected, the duties of both offices shall temporarily be carried out, in order of priority, by the Speaker of the People's Majlis, or by the Deputy Speaker of the People's Majlis, or by a member of the People's Majlis elected by a resolution of the People's Majlis, until successors in office are chosen."
Clause 125 (a)
"If any of the instances specified in Article 124 (b) of this Constitution occur and both the office of the President and the Vice President become vacant at the same time, a Presidential election shall be held within sixty days of both offices becoming vacant and appointments shall be made to both offices."
In major democracies of the world such as the UK, Germany, France, Italy and India, it is quite common to see mid-term elections for the post of head of government. USA is a notable exception to this practice, with Vice President's taking over when the Presidency falls vacant. The US practice however comes at a cost. Someone can become President without ever facing a national election (even as a running mate). This is not just theory. In real life Vice President Gerald Ford became the 38th President of the United States when Richard Nixon resigned in 1974. Earlier in 1973 he had become Vice President when Spiro Agnew (who was Nixon's running mate) resigned. Thus Ford never faced an election either as presidential candidate or running mate. The way the current Constitution of the Maldives is written, a similar incident could occur.
Since the Maldives has held presidential swearing ceremonies on November 11th once in 5 years since 1968, one could be forgiven if one mistook that as the spirit of the Constitution. However it had nothing to do with any spirit. It was just coincidence. If any of the incumbents had resigned or died in office, a fresh election would have been held within 60 days of the event and the new president would have gone for a full 5-year term beginning from the new date, thus upsetting the November 11 routine.
What then is the spirit of the Constitution? Is it to permanently set the timings of Presidential and Majlis elections to October and February of the following year respectively? Is this the ideal timing? Given that timing, would the newly elected President be in a stronger position to influence the Majlis elections coming just 4 months later? Would this affect the separation of powers? These are some questions one must consider.