Upon scrutinizing the current and past composition of the Maldivian People's Majlis, a distinct image emerges - the reoccurrence of certain Members of Parliament (MPs) serving multiple terms. With a few MPs having held their seats for over 20 years, one may raise valid concerns regarding the causes and the efficacy of such an outcome.
After elections, it is not uncommon for constituents to experience growing dissatisfaction with their elected representatives. This is often attributed to the inconsistencies between the election campaign pledges versus the actual actions taken by the elected officials after taking office. During the campaign, MPs typically engage in door-to-door visits, wellness check-ins, and regular communication with constituents to garner support. However, once elected these dwindle down. Consequently, the crucial connection that an MP is expected to maintain with their constituents weaken, leading to disappointment and disillusionment.
What is witnessed is a lackluster performance by a significant number of MPs, characterized by poor attendance, disproportionate allegiance to their political parties over the constituency, unpreparedness in debates, and an overall absence of meaningful legislative efforts aimed to enact, amend and revise laws, as outlined in the Constitution of the Maldives. Excessive and frequent instances of tit-for-tat bickering among varying political ideologies have become a prevalent issue, resulting in an overshadowing effect on the overall functioning of parliament, and in turn, delaying the full and effective undertaking of the mandated roles and responsibilities of MPs.
Today, some of the MPs act with impunity and have disproportionate influence on the political scene because there are only few accountability systems in place. While it is vital to engage in critical conversation as to why such MPs are continually elected by constituents, it is also critical to establish appropriate systems and channels for dealing with cases where an MP fails to meet their legislated duties and obligations.
MP Recall Act
In an effort to hold parliamentarians accountable, Attorney Hamza Khaleel drafted the MP Recall bill in 2019. This bill proposed a public no-confidence vote against an MP in the event that a request bearing signatories from two-thirds of constituents is submitted to the Elections Commission (EC). In 2020, Hamza had sought comments from the public on the draft and continues to garner public support to present the bill to the Parliament.
However, despite Villimale Constituency Parliamentarian Ahmed Usham announcing his support for the MP Recall Bill in 2020, and the Hoarafushi Constituency MP Ahmed Saleem calling for a system to authorize recalling of MPs in March of 2022, no real progress has been made in this matter.
Regrettably, despite the mushrooming public discontent with the performance of MPs, significant support from the public to the bill is lacking. Speaking to MFR, Hamza surmises that the general public is not accustomed to advocating for bills as they have not engaged in the law-making process by political parties, state or NGOs when drafting and submitting bills to the parliament; which he believes explains the relatively quiet support for the Recall Act.
However, despite the setback, Hamza remains steadfast in bringing about the much-needed reforms to the Majilis. He further stated that in making MPs accountable, in addition to passing the MP Recall Act, he strongly believes the importance of passing the Asset Declaration Act. The latter is the Declaration of Financial and Other Interests Bill, drafted by Transparency Maldives which was introduced to the People's Majlis in February 2022.
In the UK, according to the Recall of MPs Act 2015 an MP is to lose his or her seat in the House of Commons as a result of a successful recall petition, which will trigger a by-election. However, the fact that the MP loses his or her seat does not prevent the MP standing as a candidate in this by-election.
Fixed Terms for Parliamentarians
Many countries around the world have term limits on their parliament members, which are designed to ensure that elected officials do not hold onto their positions of power for too long, and to encourage a healthy turnover of elected representatives. For example in Mexico, members of the Chamber of Deputies are limited to serving a maximum of three consecutive terms, while members of the Senate are limited to serving a maximum of two consecutive terms.
There are compelling arguments for instituting set terms for parliament members. One critical theme is fostering of accountability. By having fixed terms, MPs are held constantly accountable to their constituents and can be held liable for their conduct or inaction throughout their tenure. This promotes a higher level of responsiveness to their constituent’s wants and concerns, fostering a sense of obligation to protect the interests of people they represent.
Another argument is the promotion of fresh idea and input. Having a healthy turnover of elected representatives promote greater diversity of perspectives, knowledge and experience in the parliament, which is crucial in the kind of work MPs engage in. Furthermore, fixed periods help minimize the potential of corruption and abuse of power by limiting MPs ability to hold onto office indefinitely. This can contribute to a more transparent and accountable political system, as well as lessen the possibility of elected politicians abusing their position for personal gain.
Finally, by establishing the terms, it stimulates long-term thinking. It urges MPs to choose long-term aims and goals over a short-term political perk. This forces MPs to realize that their term as temporary rather than a career route, focusing on the important national issues instead of thinking of re-election campaigns.
While there are crucial drawbacks to consider in general; fixing terms for parliament members can help to create more responsibility, responsiveness and inclusiveness which can benefit both the MPs and their constituents along with the larger community. Achieving a balance between promoting stability and continuity in governance while ensuring that qualified and knowledgeable representatives continue to serve in parliament is of utmost importance.