MALE (Reuters) - The Maldives Supreme Court on Sunday dismissed the country's top elections officials for failing to follow its guidelines during last year's presidential polls and for disbanding eight political parties ahead of a parliamentary election this month.
The court ordered the head of the commission, Fuwad Thowfeek, and his deputy, Ahmed Fayaz, removed from their posts and asked the parliament to appoint replacements within six days. Thowfeek received a six-month jail sentence, suspended for three years.
The election commission came under the seven-member court's scrutiny last year when it went ahead with a presidential run-off after three previous attempts were annulled or postponed by the court.
Mohamed Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected president who was ousted in February 2012, narrowly lost a November 16 run-off to the current president, Abdulla Yameen. Nasheed's opposition coalition is challenging Yameen's ruling coalition in a March 22 poll.
Last month the election commission disbanded eight political parties with less than 3,000 members in line with a parliamentary act passed last year, despite the Supreme Court asking it not to go forward with the move.
The court, which tried the two men and other members of the commission last month, said it had determined that Thowfeek and Fayaz must bear responsibility for "disobeying and challenging" Supreme Court judgments and order, which were issued in its capacity as "the guardian of the constitution."
It said the two officials had "lost the right and legal status to remain members of the commission."
Thowfeek confirmed the verdicts and said he did not know how their replacements would be appointed.
Nasheed, while campaigning in Haa Alif Dhidhoo island, criticized the Supreme Court's judgments and called on Maldivians to protest.
"This is the saddest day in the history of Maldives' constitutional life. Gain courage from each other, come out and protest. If you stay quietly at home tonight, our children and our children's children will not see a good future," Nasheed said.
Eduard Kukan, the chief observer of the European Union's election observation mission to the Maldives, said the Thowfeek-led election commission had played an important role in ensuring transparent, inclusive and credible electoral processes.
"The mission will study the verdict carefully, including the reasoning upon which the ruling was based," Kukan said.
(Reporting by Daniel Bosley in Male; Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Paul Simao)