Foreign freeholds will not threaten Indian Ocean security, assures President Yameen

President Abdulla Yameen has assured the public that authorising foreign ownership of land or freeholds in the Maldives will not threat Indian Ocean security or lead to “enslavement” and shortage of land.

Addressing the nation this afternoon after ratifying amendments to the constitution passed by the parliament yesterday, Yameen insisted that the unprecedented changes will not adversely affect “friendly relations” with South Asian neighbours.

“The Maldivian government has given assurances to the Indian government and our neighbouring countries as well to keep the Indian Ocean a demilitarised zone,” he said.

The Maldives’ foreign policy will not change as a result of authorising freeholds, he added. The freeholds would not pose “any danger to either the Maldivian people or our neighbouring countries.”

The amendments will allow foreigners who invest more than US$1 billion to own plots of land within the project site. At least 70 percent of the project site must also be reclaimed land.

The second amendment to the 2008 constitution was approved yesterday with 70 votes in favour and 14 against. MPs opposed to the move expressed concern over possible Chinese military expansion in the Maldives and lack of time to debate the amendments.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said the party supports “free ownership of land and property” in principle, but expressed concern with the amendments facilitating “foreign non-commercial logistical installations in the Maldives.”

Speaking to the press after the president’s remarks, newly appointed vice president Ahmed Adeeb said: “We are not going to sell our lands to any country. We are trying to do business here. We want to bring in many corporate investments. We are not going to sell land to other countries, whether its China or Saudi Arabia. We are not gifting our land to other parties. We want to mobilize investments worth at least US$1 billion.”

Attorney General Mohamed Anil stressed that the government will conduct background checks on investors and review if proposed projects may affect geopolitics.

“No cause for concern” 

Yameen said there is “no cause for Maldivian citizens to be concerned” with the amendments. Land will only be offered for large-scale economic activities, he stressed, and not “for foreigners to settle in those areas.”

The amendments include “safeguards” such as a requirement for the parliament to approve the projects, Yameen said, and investors will not be able to carry out any other work apart from the authorised project.

The state will exercise complete sovereignty over the areas, he continued, which would also be subject to the Maldivian constitution and laws.

“If the Maldivian state’s sovereign authority is not lost, temples can’t be built there, casinos can’t be built there, and illegal activities cannot be carried out,” he said.

Anil meanwhile noted that the amendments state that the total land area of all project sites must not exceed 10 percent of naturally existing land in the Maldives. The projects will also be regulated by laws passed by the People’s Majlis, he added.

Anil said freehold zones were key in the economic transformation of Dubai, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia. He also said India has a threshold of US$5 million worth of investment.

“The government is not obliged to engage with investors who come with US$1 billion. Of the proposed projects, we will check how feasible they are, what the biggest investments are. And we will also check who the parties are, what their backgrounds are, for Maldives’ security and protection, if this will affect geopolitics,” he said.

“Economic transformation”

Yameen said the amendments will “speed up the pace” of realising the current administration’s goal of “transforming the economy,” which could not be achieved by continuing with “business as usual.”

The US$1 billion will not be spent entirely on land reclamation, Yameen said, but on infrastructure development such as new “townships,” airports, marinas, and seaports.

Adeeb meanwhile told the press that the amendments were in line with the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) economic agenda. It accompanies the government’s flagship special economic zones (SEZ) legislation and the introduction of corporate residence visas.

Responding to allegations that the SEZ legislation had failed, Adeeb said the government has received several SEZ proposals from potential investors, but the government could not accept some as some investors made demands such as complete exclusivity for 25 years.

The government is negotiating “the best deal” for the country and seeking “win-win situations”, Adeeb said, reiterating that one ‘mega project’ could transform the economy.

The government will not allow illegal activities such as weapons smuggling, money laundering, or gambling, he said.

“We do not want to bring in companies with bad reputations to launder money. We are talking about Fortune 500 companies,” he said.

Land reclamation 

Yameen meanwhile sought to allay fears of “running out of land for future generations.”

The government is not planning on offering all the islands and lagoons in the Maldives for sale, he said, adding that the government will only authorise “one or two projects” that would create jobs for youth and increase national wealth.

The Maldives has the capacity to significantly increase its territory by reclaiming land in large shallow lagoons, he said, and the cabinet’s economic council has approved funds for the state-owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) to procure a cutter dredger.

Yameen said 24 million square meters of land could be reclaimed from the lagoon of Laamu Maavah for about US$200 million, 45 million square meters could be reclaimed from the Vaavu Bodumohora lagoon for about US$160 million, and 16 million square meters could be reclaimed from the Thaa Hirilandhoo lagoon for US$50 million.

Once the MTCC dredger arrives next years, Yameen said the government will have the capacity and the financial means to carry out the projects.

There is no danger of running out of land in the next 50 or 100 years, he said.

Population consolidation is also a policy of the current administration, Yameen continued, urging youth from small islands to migrate to the capital.

Once phase two of the Hulhumalé development is complete and the government authorises high-rise buildings to 20 or 25 floors, Yameen said up to 70 percent of Maldivian population could be settled in the Malé region.

Yameen said the constitutional amendments were proposed following long deliberation, research, and consultation with foreign parties and legal experts.

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Majlis approves foreign freeholds in second amendment to constitution

The parliament has amended the constitution to authorise foreign ownership of land or freeholds in the Maldives with overwhelming support of 70 votes in favour, a day after the amendments were introduced to the People’s Majlis.

Ten MPs of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and nine MPs of the Jumhooree Party (JP) also voted in favour of the unprecedented changes. Some 14 MPs voted No.

MPs opposed to the move expressed concern over possible Chinese military expansion in the Maldives, and the lack of time to review the amendments. The bill was submitted on Monday, debated and sent to committee for review at an extraordinary sitting last night, and put to a vote today.

The opposition MPs’ backing was necessary as a three-quarters majority or 64 votes was required to amend the constitution. The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) controls 48 seats in the 85-member house.

Shortly before the vote was called, former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, leader of the PPM and half-brother of President Abdulla Yameen, urged the president to seek public opinion before ratifying the amendments. This is the first time Gayoom has publicly opposed president Yameen’s actions.

The amendments will allow foreigners who invest more than US$1 billion to purchase land within the project site. At least 70 percent of the area when the project is completed must also be reclaimed land. The constitution previously prohibited foreign ownership of any part of Maldivian territory, but allowed leasing of land for up to 99 years.

New Cold War

Speaking during the final debate on the amendments today, MDP MP Eva Abdulla said that a Chinese Yuan class 335 submarine passed through Maldivian waters and docked at the Karachi port on May 22, adding that Indian media called it “China’s deadliest attack submarine.”

Maldivian foreign and domestic policies should be based on ensuring Indian Ocean regional security as “Maldives is not in the South China Sea,” she said.

The Maldives is “a front line state” in the new Cold War and should not be a catalyst for conflict, the MP for Galolhu North added.

The MDP as a “centre-right party” supports free market policies and the principle of private land ownership, but could not support “selling land for China to build military bases” in the Maldives.

Eva said the MDP could support foreign ownership of land in the Maldives under a more transparent government and independent judiciary.

PPM MP Ali Arif conceded that the Maldives as a small nation is always vulnerable to influence from powerful nations. He said the committee addressed the concerns over sovereignty during its review process and added a clause to the bill stating that the Maldivian state will exercise complete authority over the territory designated for projects.

He added that 80 or 90 percent of the Maldives’ 112 luxury resorts are operated by foreign businesses and multinational hotel chains have invested millions of dollars in the lucrative tourism industry.

Majority leader Ahmed Nihan, who had submitted the bill, meanwhile assured the public that the ruling party would not compromise Islam or Maldivian traditions and sovereignty. He stressed that the amendments only apply to newly reclaimed land and that the government was not planning to sell existing natural islands or reclaimed land.

No public debate

Adhaalath Party MP Anara Naeem said she had proposed amending the bill to allow lease of Maldivian territory for up to 150 years, but the parliament secretariat did not accept her amendment as it was submitted after 12pm.

Anara said a single day was too short a period to approve such changes to the constitution without consulting stakeholders or experts.

Gayoom raised the same issue in a letter sent to President Yameen and shared with the media by the former president’s office. He urged his brother to hold a public referendum on the issue, noting the amendments were proposed without public debate.

Gayoom also stated that previous governments did not sell any part of Maldivian territory to prevent foreign influence over the country’s independence, sovereignty, and resources.

MDP MP Ahmed ‘ADK’ Nashid also expressed concern with passing the amendments without a debate among the public or an assessment of the pros and cons of the proposed changes.

Despite the economic benefits of attracting foreign investors, Nashid warned that the amendments could pose dangers to Maldivian sovereignty with foreign powers encouraging secessionist movements in a situation similar to Crimea breaking away from the Ukraine.

MPs Eva, Nashid, and Anara were among those who cast dissenting votes along with MDP MPs Rozaina Adam, Mohamed Rasheed Hussain, Mohamed Falah, Mohamed Aslam, Mariya Ahmed Didi, Imthiyaz Fahmy, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, and Fayyaz Ismail.

JP MPs Ali Hussain, Abdulla Riyaz, and Independent MP Ahmed Mahloof also voted against the proposed changes.

MDP MPs Abdul Bari Abdulla, Abdul Ghafoor Moosa, Abdulla Shahid, Ahmed Marzooq, Ali Azim, Ali Nizar, Ibrahim Shareef, Ibrahim Naseer, Mohamed Nazim, and Mohamed Abdul Kareem voted in favour of the bill along with nine JP MPs and Independent MP Hussain Areef.

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Amendments raise fear of Chinese military expansion in the Maldives

Proposed constitutional amendments to allow foreign ownership of land in the Maldives will allow China to establish military facilities in the Maldives and destabilise the Indian Ocean, a source within the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has said.

The amendments will allow foreigners who invest in a project worth more than US$1 billion to purchase land, meaning it can facilitate “foreign non-commercial logistical facilities” on such plots.

Since the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) holds a majority in the parliament, the government can allow and regulate military activity on such land through other legislation, the source who wished to remain anonymous said.

In a more carefully worded statement shared with the media, the MDP said: “Being a center right political party, the Maldivian Democratic Party in principle believes in free ownership of land and property. Nevertheless, the amendments can facilitate foreign non-commercial logistical installations in the Maldives.

“The MDP Parliamentary Group Leader Hon. Ibrahim Mohamed Solih speaking on the bill on Tuesday night reiterated MDP’s call to guarantee national security, safeguard stability, peace and security of the Indian Ocean. This therefore forms the MDP position.”

The amendment will be put up for a vote today.

A three-fourths majority or 64 votes is required to amend the constitution. A total of 62 MPs voted to accept the amendment at midnight on Tuesday at an extraordinary parliamentary session. Parliamentary standing orders have been amended to fast-track the process of passing a bill into law.

PPM MPs were not responding to calls at the time of going to press.

Majority leader Ahmed Nihan said last night that the amendments will not affect the Maldives’ sovereignty, while MP Ali Arif said no land will be given for military purposes. The ruling party says the amendment would increase economic growth and facilitate sustainable investment in the Maldives.

President Abdulla Yameen has declared a foreign policy shift to the East last year. Chinese president Xi Jingping was the first head of state since Yameen assumed power and the first Chinese president to visit the Maldives.

During the visit, the Maldives agreed to become a partner in China’s maritime silk route, a trade route from China’s Fujian province to the Mediterranean Sea via South Asia and East Africa.

China is providing grant and loan assistance to the Maldives to build a bridge between the capital and the airport. Chinese companies are involved in airport development and have now been handed islands for resort development.

In January, the MDP alleged the government was making plans to award parts of south central Laamu Atoll to China for a military base. The Chinese embassy promptly dismissed the allegations as “completely false.”

“It is a common knowledge that China pursues a national defense policy that is defensive in nature,” read the press release. “China does not maintain any military in any foreign country.”

Several independent and opposition MPs voted against the amendment last night, contending it will allow the government to sell the Maldives off as it gives unprecedented access to foreign parties to operate in the Maldives, especially with the enactment of the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act last year.

The SEZ Act gives investors and developers major tax breaks and exemption from regulatory provisions in financial, environmental and labour laws.

At the time, the opposition contended that the SEZ law would pave the way for money laundering and other criminal enterprises, undermine the decentralisation system and authorise a board formed by the president to openly sell off the country without parliamentary oversight.

The government and the MDP are currently negotiating for the release of opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed and other jailed politicians.

The opposition has backed several government proposals including the impeachment of vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed on Tuesday and a constitutional amendment setting new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency.

President Abdulla Yameen has now appointed the influential tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb as the new vice president. His nomination will be approved by the People’s Majlis today.

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Second amendment on foreign land ownership likely to pass

Key opposition MPs have expressed support for a ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) proposed constitutional amendment to authorise foreign ownership of land or freeholds in the Maldives. Some 62 MPs voted to consider the amendment and have sent it to a special committee for review.

A three-quarters majority or 64 votes will be needed to amend the constitution. The ruling coalition only controls 48 seats in the 85-member house.

With 62 MPs voting to consider the bill, it is likely to pass into law. The final vote is expected on Wednesday afternoon.

Speaking at tonight’s extraordinary sitting of parliament, MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the parliamentary group leader of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), expressed support for the amendment, but said the government must consider Indian Ocean security in awarding plots of land to foreign parties.

The bill comes amidst increased attempts by the government to woo Chinese and Middle-eastern investors.

The constitution currently prohibits foreign ownership of any part of Maldivian territory, but allows leasing of land for up to 99 years.

The proposed amendments will allow foreigners who invest in a project worth more than US$1 billion to purchase land. At least 70 percent of the area when the project is completed must also be reclaimed land.

Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim said the amendment was needed in an interconnected world. Land ownership by foreigners on a freehold basis was allowed in developed countries, he added.

The minimum threshold of US$1 billion worth investment will enable the government to develop the education and health sectors, he continued, and thanked President Abdulla Yameen for his “wisdom.”

Tonight’s sitting was scheduled after changes to the standing orders to fast-track the process of passing a bill into law was approved at this morning’s sitting. The legislative process includes three main stages and usually takes weeks or months. But under the new rules, a bill can be debated and passed into law on the same day.

The amendment comes amidst negotiations between the government and the MDP. The opposition has so far backed several unprecedented measures proposed by the government in hope of freedom for jailed opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed and other politicians.

The bill is the second amendment proposed to the constitution since it was ratified in 2008. MPs in June passed the first amendment to the constitution to set new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency. Subsequently, vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed was impeached today.

Coerced

PPM MP Ahmed Nihan – who submitted the amendments (Dhivehi) on behalf of the government today –  said contrary to “misleading” media reports, the amendments would not allow the government to sell large islands or lose sovereignty over Maldivian territory.

The PPM parliamentary group leader said the purpose of the amendment is to attract “extremely large” foreign investment and spur economic growth and infrastructure development. Nihan said Singapore developed despite the lack of natural resources because the small island state “opened up” to foreign investment.

PPM MP Ali Arif emphatically stressed no land will be given for military purposes.

MP Abdul Ghafoor Moosa backed the bill saying that the MDP’s policy is to create a real estate market and encourage home ownership. “We are very happy the ruling party now accepts our development policies. I know the government has an investor willing to invest US$1 billion. We must make use of that opportunity.”

Independent MP Ahmed Mahloof reminded ruling party MPs of their campaign to evict Indian airport developer GMR and said: “This bill amounts to selling off our land. If things continue like this, we might sell off our wives, children and the boxers we are wearing. As we celebrate 50 years of independence, our land must remain ours.”

The former ruling party MP suggested the JP and MDP had been coerced to support the amendment in exchange for freedom for Nasheed and a removal of a freeze on Gasim’s tourism companies.

Meanwhile, JP MP Ali Hussein said that Maldivians wanted clean water and sanitation instead of “mega projects.”

“They are worried about corruption. They want to divert funds wasted on corruption to development. They want tertiary hospitals,” he said. He said that the PPM wanted to award freeholds because it had failed to attract investment through the government’s flagship special economic zones (SEZ) legislation, which was passed in August last year. It gives investors tax breaks and relaxed laws.

He further warned of unchecked corruption and undue influence of large corporations if the amendment passed due to weak oversight institutions and lack of accountability.

Opposing the amendment, MDP MP Rozaina Adam said the government had failed to attract foreign investors because of a weak and politicized judiciary. MDP MP Fayyaz Ismail meanwhile said he supported the amendment in principle, but said extensive public consultations were necessary before he could back the bill.

Special economic zones

In April 2014, President Abdulla Yameen said he the SEZ law would enable investors to have “freeholds” in the country and allow investors “to engage in really, really long gestative projects.”

The opposition contended that the SEZ law would pave the way for money laundering and other criminal enterprises, undermine the decentralisation system, and authorise a board formed by the president to “openly sell off the country” without parliamentary oversight.

But the government maintained that the law was necessary to attract large-scale foreign investments and to launch ‘mega projects,’ which President Yameen has said would “transform” the economy through diversification and mitigate the reliance on the tourism industry.

The mega projects include the construction of a bridge connecting Malé to Hulhumalé and the development of a ‘Youth City’ in the reclaimed artificial island.

In January, President Yameen said 75 percent of the country’s population could be resettled in Hulhumalé and urged residents of islands with small populations to migrate to the new city. According to the 2014 census, the population of the Maldives stands at 341,256, of which 133,019 people resides in Malé.

Other mega projects envisioned by the government includes the development of a transhipment port in the Maldives’ northernmost atoll. The Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project (iHavan) also involves the development of an airport, offshore docking and bunkering facilities, an export processing zone, real estate businesses, and tourism facilities.

In June, a group of Saudi Arabian investors reportedly visited Ihavandhippolhu. The Saudi Arabian government has also provided US$1 million as grant aid to finance the feasibility project.

Additional reporting and writing by Zaheena Rasheed. 

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Comment: Whose pragmatism? Which principles?

It is surprising that some have attempted to justify Wednesday’s constitutional amendment to change age requirement for the offices of president and vice president on its substance.

The efforts to amend the constitution by putting an age limit for the president and vice president and by giving the powers to the president to appoint and dismiss vice president, curtail electoral rights. This includes the right to elect the vice president and the right to contest political office. These efforts are also dictated by the whims and wishes of the government of the day, not by any widely felt need for democratic reforms to the constitution.

However, it is more baffling the amendment has been defended on the basis of “pragmatism”. This is because this amendment is directly related to the failure of opposition’s “pragmatism”. One is forced to wonder whose “pragmatism” does the vote serve?

Whose pragmatism?

Nebulous words like “pragmatism” hardly clarify what the constitutional amendment is about.

The amendment is not simply about the removal of the current vice president. It is about President Abdulla Yameen’s desire to fully control and perpetuate political power. The amendment is yet another attempt, on President Yameen’s part, to eliminate serious, potential presidential candidates.

There was a reason why former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom rejected it, and pointed to the unacceptability of setting age limit to 65 years. This not only disqualifies Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim, it also disqualifies Gayoom himself, and Yameen’s long-time political rival, Ilyas Ibrahim, as presidential candidates.

One is therefore forced to ask whose “pragmatism” this vote serves?

Yameen could have attempted an old style illegitimate dictatorship. But this vote, with its appearance of democratic agency and a position of bargaining power on opposition’s part, seems to be typical to his type of new despotic regime, ruled through a veneer of legitimacy, fully utilising democratic discourses, formal institutions and other antics of democracy.

One could therefore call the success passage of the amendment Yameen’s “pragmatism”, not Maldivian Democratic Party’s or JP’s.

Political pragmatism indeed assumes the belief that one has agency and one is in a position of power to somewhat direct things. However, the opposition acted not from the belief they were in a position of power or real agency.

The vote to pass the amendment was an outcome of complete disillusionment, if not distrust, in what ordinary people are capable of achieving. It was also an outcome of the belief the international community has failed to act against the rise of Yameen’s new despotism.

In other words, it was an outcome of the belief there was no power and democratic agency in politics through ordinary people or the so-called international promoters of democracy.

The vote is therefore not opposition’s pragmatism. It is their defeatism.

Why defeatism?

It is easy to put blame on ordinary people when their mobilisation could not be sustained or the mobilisation could not achieve one’s unclear goals.

Yet sustaining political mobilisation for major changes requires certain common ideals. At the very least, it requires common sensibilities and affects.

From the beginning, MDP defined their political mobilisation against Yameen’s government based on “pragmatism”. For example, the alliance with JP, who had stolen the first round of presidential elections in 2013, was defended on “pragmatism” based on common “interests”.

But a group capable of sustaining political mobilisation effective to bring major positive changes cannot rely on “pragmatism” based on narrow “interests” alone. A set of shared ideals for a shared political future is necessary to sustain mobilisation. The opposition not only lacked these shared ideals. It is also not altogether clear they held any political ideals individually, beyond rhetoric such as “In Defence of the Constitution” or “Aniyaverikan Ninman”.

The nebulous term “aniyaverikan” to capture all the disparate interests or unclear goals of the opposition also lent itself to conceptualisation by religious leaders such as former Adalat president Sheikh Hussain Rasheed Ahmed in terms of the tripartite sins in Islam: sins against God, sins against one’s self, and sins against third parties.

Short of common ideals for a shared future, such a political grouping must be, at the very least, based on common sensibilities and emotions. True, anger and betrayal might have animated many, including JP leader, businessman Gasim Ibrahim. However, one wonders if this anger and sense of betrayal have any affinity with the sensibilities shared by others.

The lack of a shared future based on shared ideals and sensibilities was deeply felt from the first rally against Yameen’s government on 27 February. Some also saw even the May Day rally, the biggest so far, as a failure because of this lack of shared goals based on common ideals and sensibilities. By June 12, any doubt as to the political parties’ ability to sustain a common political mobilisation was gone.

If this is so, one is left to wonder, isn’t Wednesday’s vote really a failure of “pragmatism” by the opposition?

Despotism facilitated

There is no proven formula for how to achieve and sustain democracy. Therefore, the matters of how to achieve and sustain democracy fall within “pragmatism” if pragmatism is about what works in practice.

As the great pragmatist William James held, holding on to certain beliefs even if they could not be proven to be true provided those beliefs could bring about positive consequences, is partly what pragmatism is about.

However, some beliefs as to how to achieve democracy have clearly no positive consequences. The belief in the “short walk” to democracy and the belief that the wisdom and dictates of single individuals to be sufficient to walk this walk, seem to me such beliefs.

It is the public rationalisation based on these beliefs that led to Wednesday’s vote. It is not democratic pragmatism.

In doing this, opposition is facilitating Yameen’s new despotism to flourish. If this so, to my mind, it is foolish (and thus “unpragmatic”) to think the most popular politician in the country will be allowed to contest in 2018 under fair terms. That is, if he is allowed at all.

Azim Zahir worked at the President’s Office and Transparency Maldives. He has a Masters in Political Science from the University of Sydney.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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Majlis amends constitution, sets new age-limits for presidency

The parliament today passed the first amendment to the constitution with overwhelming tripartisan support to set an age limit of 30 to 65 years for the presidency and the vice presidency.

A total of 78 MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives-Maldives Development Alliance (PPM-MDA) coalition and the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) voted in favour of the proposed change.

The ruling coalition is seeking to replace vice-president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, who is 33 and ineligible for the post.

The constitution states that presidential and vice presidential candidates must be 35 years of age.

Pro-government MPs have publicly accused Jameel of disloyalty and incompetence, but opposition politicians and some media outlets have claimed that President Abdulla Yameen is seeking a loyal deputy ahead of a life-threatening surgery.

Several PPM MPs have said that Adeeb will become the next vice president, but Jameel can only be replaced if he either resigns or is impeached with a two-third majority of parliament.

The revision to article 109(c) marks the first time the constitution has been changed since its adoption in August 2008. The change will take effect upon ratification by the president.

The amendment was passed with 78 votes in favour and two against. Independent MP Ahmed Mahloof and JP MP Ali Hussain cast dissenting votes.

Mahloof said in a tweet last night that he would vote against the amendment. “I respect JP and MDP’s decision,” he added.

The support of MDP and JP MPs was necessary to pass the amendment as the PPM-MDA coalition has 48 seats in the 85-member house and a three-quarters majority or 64 votes was needed to amend the constitution.

The MDP and JP parliamentary groups issued three-line whips last night for its MPs to back the amendment, prompting speculation of a deal with the government after former President Mohamed Nasheed’s house arrest was extended to eight weeks last night.

MDP parliamentary group leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has said that the main opposition party stood to gain more from backing the amendments than opposing it.

Nasheed, who was serving a 13-year prison sentence at the high-security Maafushi jail, was transferred to house arrest on Sunday. President Yameen authorised the transfer.

Nasheed’s arrest in February and subsequent conviction on terrorism charges triggered a political crisis with daily protests, mass anti-government demonstrations, and hundreds of arrests.

The 19-day terrorism trial was widely criticised over its apparent lack of due process and international pressure has been mounting on the government to release the opposition leader and other jailed “political prisoners.”

JP leader Gasim Ibrahim, who has been out of the country since late April, had urged JP MPs to vote for the amendments and announced his retirement from politics. The amendments bar the business tycoon from contesting the 2018 presidential election as he would be 66 years at the time.

The government has frozen the bank accounts of Gasim’s Villa Group and several subsidiary companies over US$90.4 million allegedly owed as unpaid rent and fines.

Two senior JP members, Ameen Ibrahim and Sobah Rasheed, are meanwhile overseas in self-imposed exile after the prosecutor general pressed terrorism charges against the pair in the wake of a mass protest on May 1.

The JP leaders along with Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla are accused of inciting violence at the 20,000-strong anti-government rally.

During today’s sitting of parliament, PPM MP Ahmed Nihan said ruling coalition MPs will not speak during the final debate on the amendments.

MDP MP Ibrahim Naseer said he backed the amendment as the party has issued a three-line whip for the vote.

The MDP has always advocated increasing opportunities for youth, he said, and lowering the age limit for presidential candidates would enable young people to reach the highest office of the state.

No other MP asked to speak during the debate.

The amendment was submitted earlier this month by MDA MP Mohamed Ismail, who said during the preliminary debate that he proposed the 65-year cap as the president should be “young, intelligent, daring, active, and energetic.”

The deal

The apparent deal between the government and opposition parties has divided opinion among opposition supporters and sparked debate on social media.

While some have condemned amending the constitution to benefit an individual and accused opposition MPs of abandoning principles, others argued the possible release of opposition politicians would justify the move.

MDP MP Fayyaz Ismail and MDP chairperson Ali Waheed defended the party’s stand, but former attorney general Husnu Suood questioned its wisdom.

 

JP MP Ali Hussain suggested that the opposition has capitulated while JP deputy leader Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan said the MDP and JP has made a “mockery” of supporters who came out to protest under the ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ banner.

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Nasheed’s house arrest extended, opposition backs age-limits for presidency

Former president Mohamed Nasheed’s temporary transfer to house arrest has been extended as opposition parties announced tonight support for a constitutional amendment setting new age-limits for the presidency.

A family member has confirmed Nasheed’s three-day house arrest was extended to eight weeks, after a doctor advised a stress-free environment and rest for back pain.

The opposition leader is serving a 13-year jail term on a terrorism conviction relating to the arrest of a judge during his tenure. The rushed trial was widely criticized for its apparent lack of due process.

MPs of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and the Jumhooree Party (JP), at separate meetings, decided to back a ruling coalition proposed law to set an age limit of 30 – 65 years for the presidency.

The decision has fuelled speculation of a deal between the government and the MDP conditioning backing for the amendment on Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest.

Nasheed’s imprisonment has triggered a political crisis with three months of daily protests, historic marches and arrests numbering in the hundreds. Several foreign governments and the EU have called for his release.

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) is seeking to replace vice-president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb. Adeeb is 33 now and ineligible for the vice-presidency as the Constitution states candidates must be 35.

PPM MPs have accused Jameel of disloyalty and incompetence, but opposition politicians and some media outlets have claimed President Abdulla Yameen is fatally ill and is seeking a loyal deputy ahead of a surgery.

The government has previously dismissed rumors regarding the president’s health.

Wednesday vote

The amendment is up for the vote at Wednesday’s sitting. A three-quarters majority or 64 votes will be required for it to pass.

The PPM and its ally the Maldivian Development Alliance only control 48 seats of the 85-member house. The JP has 11 MPs while the MDP has 22 MPs.

The JP, at a parliamentary group meeting, issued a three-line whip. Only seven of the 11 MPs reportedly attended the meeting.

Gasim Ibrahim, the JP leader and MP for Maamigili, is out of the country. The tourism tycoon has urged JP MPs to back the amendment and announced he will retire from politics when his five-year term as MP expires in 2019.

The government has frozen several accounts of companies belonging to Gasim’s Villa Group after slapping a US$90.4million fine claiming the money is owed in unpaid rents, fees and fines.

The MDP decided to back the constitutional amendment at a national executive council meeting tonight.

Even if the amendment passes, Dr Jameel can only be replaced if he resigns or if he is impeached with another two-thirds majority in the parliament.

House arrest

The Department of Correctional Services extended Nasheed’s house arrest to eight weeks tonight following a consultation with a neurosurgeon at the ADK hospital, a family member said.

Nasheed, who was previously held at a high security jail in Maafushi Island, was transferred to house arrest on Sunday. President Yameen authorized the transfer.

An unnamed senior government official told newspaper Haveeru that the extension came on the doctor’s recommendation.

“The doctor, after doing an MRI, has recommended [Nasheed] two months of bed rest. The neurosurgeon says he needs bed rest and a stress-free environment,” he said.

Nasheed was brought to Malé on Sunday nearly a month after a doctor first recommended an MRI scan.

President Yameen has ruled out negotiations over Nasheed’s release in talks with opposition parties, and has recently rejected a clemency plea.

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Gayoom ‘unhappy’ with age limits for presidency

MPs of the ruling coalition have backed a constitutional amendment setting age limits for the presidency against the wishes of ex-president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Gayoom, who heads the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), had sent a letter to the party’s parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan stating that MPs should wait on approval from the PPM executive council before supporting the amendment.

However, at an emergency meeting tonight, MPs of the PPM and its ally the Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) decided that the parliamentary group does not require approval from the council.

The amendment – proposed by MDA MP Mohamed Ismail – proposes setting an age limit of 30 to 65 years for the presidency. The constitution currently only says a candidate must be 35 years of age.

If passed, the bill would bar Gayoom from contesting presidential polls. The former president, who is now in his early 80s, had served six terms from 1978 to 2008.

“Deeply saddened”

Minivan News has learnt that Gayoom had sent a text message to Nihan on the morning of June 9 expressing disapproval with the proposal. “I reject the proposal to set age limits for the presidency. It will only bring President Yameen into disrepute. Setting a cap on the age of a presidential candidate is not done anywhere in the world.”

Shortly after the message was sent, some 44 MPs voted to consider the amendment and sent it to a sub committee for review.

After the vote, Gayoom, in a second text message to Nihan said: “I am deeply saddened. There is no point to a man whose opinions are not considered staying on as PPM president.”

The parliamentary committee has since voted to accept the bill. It will now be sent to the parliament floor for approval.

The bill has fuelled speculation that President Abdulla Yameen plans to replace vice-president Mohamed Jameel Ahmed with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, who is now 33 and ineligible for the position.

Yameen is Gayoom’s half-brother.

The relationship between President Yameen and Dr Jameel is reportedly under strain. Jameel’s cousin, Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, was dismissed from the cabinet last month. The government did not provide a reason for the dismissal.

Yameen is currently in Germany in an unannounced visit and is due back on Sunday.

Three-quarters

A three- quarters majority or 64 votes will be needed to amend the constitution. The ruling coalition controls 48 seats in the 85-member house, and will need the backing of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the Jumhooree Party (JP).

A three-quarters majority will also be needed to impeach Jameel.

JP leader Gasim Ibrahim has urged the nine JP MPs to back the amendment, although it would bar him from contesting the next presidential elections. He will be 66 in 2018.

Gasim announced last week that he will retire from politics once his five-year term as Maamigili MP expires in 2019. The tourism tycoon’s announcement comes weeks after the government slapped a US$90.4million fine on his Villa Group and froze the accounts of five of Villa Group’s subsidiary companies.

The claim was issued after the JP split from the PPM and allied with the MDP in a campaign against President Yameen’s alleged authoritarianism.

Gasim has since suspended the JP campaign and remained silent on the imprisonment of MDP leader and ex-president Mohamed Nasheed. The JP is in disarray with two senior officials facing terrorism charges.

The MDP, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party and several JP MPs are continuing the campaign for Nasheed’s release.

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JP leader backs law that would bar him from presidency

The leader of the Jumhooree Party (JP) Gasim Ibrahim has urged MPs to back a constitutional amendment that would bar him from contesting the presidential elections in 2018.

In a message to JP MPs on Sunday, the tourism tycoon and MP, said: “I request you to vote for the proposal to set age limits on presidential and vice-presidential candidates.”

Gasim has been in Bangkok since late April.

The amendment – proposed by a ruling coalition MP – proposes setting an age limit of 30 to 65 years for the presidency. The constitution at present only says that a candidate must be 35 years of age.

“Gasim Ibrahim called some MP’s on their phones and requested that they support the amendment. He also texted some MP’s requesting support for the amendment. However the JP parliamentary group is yet to make a decision,” the JP spokesperson Ali Solih told Minivan News today.

In 2018, Gasim will be 66.

The amendment bill was accepted with 44 votes in favour, five against, and sent to a parliamentary committee for review.

A three-quarters majority or 64 votes will be needed to amend the constitution. The Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and coalition partner MDA controls 48 seats in the 85-member house.

The ruling coalition will need the backing of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and JP MPs to pass the amendment. Several JP MPs voted in favour of the bill.

The bill has fueled speculation of President Abdulla Yameen planning to replace Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, who is now 33 and ineligible for the position.

JP MP Abdulla Riyaz was not available for comment at the time of going to press.

The criminal court has meanwhile said they are not aware of an arrest warrant for Gasim. Newspaper Haveeru in early May reported the court had issued an arrest warrant for Gasim on charges of funding the opposition’s May Day protest.

A second meeting between JP representatives and the government on Sunday has also been postponed.

JP MPs met with cabinet ministers on June 9, to begin talks proposed by President Abdulla Yameen, and proposed conducting talks with all the opposition parties and the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM).

MPs also asked for the release of imprisoned politicians including ex-president Mohamed Nasheed, judicial independence and investor protection.

President Yameen called for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties, days after the tax authority froze the accounts of several tourism companies that belong to Gasim. The government claims Gasim’s Villa Group owes the state US$90.4million in rent and fines.

The opposition says the claim is politically motivated, and the Villa Group is contesting it at the civil court.

Gasim in several tweets on Friday distanced himself from the opposition’s June 12 sit-in, and urged Villa employees not to participate.

The JP deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and council member Sobah Rasheed have been charged with terrorism over the May Day protest. Nearly 200 people were arrested after violent clashes broke out between the police and protesters.

The pair are abroad. Sobah has said he is seeking political asylum.

The JP split from the ruling coalition in January citing authoritarianism, and allied with the MDP in a campaign to “defend the constitution.”

Ex-president Mohamed Nasheed was arrested a week after the two parties launched daily protests. He was swiftly brought to trial over the detention of a judge during his tenure and sentenced to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges.

Since the tax authority issued the US$90.4million claim, Gasim has not been seen at opposition protests and has remained silent on the jailing of several politicians.

MPs and senior officials of the JP, however, formed a new coalition with the MDP and the religious conservative Adhaalath Party in March.

The Villa Group has struggled to pay salaries for some 5000 staff. Some have been dismissed.

 

 

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