On 7 August, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the President of the Maldives and Asia’s longest serving ruler ratified the amended constitution of the country. It culminated a process of constitutional amendment that lasted for four years. Maldivians are lucky this time because when Gayoom came to power in 1978 he initiated a constitutional amendment that lasted for 17 years from 1980 to 1997.
The amended constitution provides the people with several civil rights such as freedom of expression and assembly. However, the constitution prevents non-Muslims from becoming citizens of Maldives, curtailing freedom of religion in the country. Even though the government claims that Maldives is a 100% Muslim country, bloggers and rights activists have been voicing concerns about the citizenship clause for a while.
The blogger Muizzu explores the citizenship clause of the constitution and concludes that it was not a wise move of politicians to insert it to the constitution.
It has been widely rumoured that the constitution does not allow the citizenship of the Maldives to any body who is not a Muslim. However, due to the existing wordings of Article 9, it is not certain whether a person who is already recognised a Maldivian citizen but has already revoked the Islamic faith could be stripped off the citizenship. Thus, this matter has to be referred to the Constitutional Court (in the case of the Maldives, it is the future Supreme Court) for clarification in the due process of a court case. However, this Article would definitely prevent non-Muslim children born to a (Muslim or non-Muslim) parent who already holds the citizenship of Maldives under the old constitution from becoming a Maldivian citizen.
I believe that aforementioned Article on citizenship may not be a wise decision that the politicians took during the Constitutional amendments process.
First of all if the rationale behind this Article is to protect the Islamic faith of the Maldivian people, I believe that it may prove to do more harm than good in this cause! It may bring more negative effect, which dwarfs that due to the impracticality of implementing this Article or that due to the potential international pressure.
The citizenship clause has come under fire from Institute on Religion and Public Policy, a US non-governmental organisation, as reported by the blog of Non-Muslim Maldivians.
It is not only the citizenship clause that has come under criticism. Idhikeeli points out that there are several flaws in the constitution.
Even though the amended constitution will give more freedom and liberties to the Maldivian people than the previous constitution, it is a flawed constitution with several inconsistencies. Though separation of powers is a hallmark of a Presidential System, there are several flaws in the constitution that prevents a functional presidential system in Maldives and will decrease the accountability of the Executive and the Parliament. The ratified constitution does not provide room for a bicameral parliament, there will be no mid-term elections and the presidential term is for five years instead of four years. We discussed these issues in a previous blog post while other writers have expressed concern about it. We hope that the youth of Maldives will in the future work to bring a better constitution to Maldives.
Photo above is of the Grand Friday Mosque in the Maldives, by Michael Foley Photography. Published under Creative Commons license on Flickr.