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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Cabinet reassesses Maldives’ membership in Commonwealth as UK welcomes talks

The cabinet has decided to reassess the Maldives’ membership in the Commonwealth following repeated threats to leave the inter-governmental organisation.

President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali told the press today that government “needs to explain to the people how much the country benefits from being part of the Commonwealth.”

“That is what the government is going to reassess,” he said, adding that the government will consider the assistance and benefits the country has received since joining in 1981 as well as the Maldives’ present role in the organisation.

Ministers recommended the reassessment to President Abdulla Yameen at today’s cabinet meeting, he said.

Muaz, however, stressed that the cabinet has not decided to leave the Commonwealth.

Earlier this month, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon said the Maldives “will seriously consider its membership at the Commonwealth” if it is placed on the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) for a second time in four years.

Some Commonwealth members had pushed for the CMAG to assess alleged violations of the Commonwealth’s principles by the Maldives over the widely criticised imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

However, the Maldives was not placed on the CMAG agenda despite “efforts made by some of the most powerful countries in the Commonwealth to place the Maldives on the group’s agenda and harm the nation,” the foreign ministry said on July 5.

But former foreign minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed said that the CMAG only granted the Maldives further time to “sort out [the] mess Maldives is in.”

In mid-June, Canada had called on CMAG to “urgently put the deteriorating situation in the Maldives on its formal agenda.” The Commonwealth’s democracy and human rights arm can recommend measures for collective action to restore democracy and constitutional rule.

Diplomatic pressure has been mounting on President Abdulla Yameen to release Nasheed and other jailed politicians, including two former defence ministers and a ruling party MP.

UK “closely involved”

Meanwhile, in response to a question posed by Karen Lumley, conservative MP for Redditch, at the House of Commons on Tuesday, minister of state at the foreign and Commonwealth office Hugo Swire said the British government remains “deeply concerned by the situation in the Maldives.”

He noted that Prime Minister David Cameron had called for Nasheed’s release from custody as well as all-party talks to resolve the six-month long political crisis.

Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is currently engaged in talks with the government. At the third meeting of the talks this week, MDP representative Ibrahim Mohamed Solih suggested that the opposition leader could be freed on July 26, when the Maldives marks 50 years of independence from the British.

Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June after the opposition backed a constitutional amendment that will allow President Abdulla Yameen to replace his deputy.

Swire meanwhile welcomed Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest and the ongoing political dialogue. “We hope the talks will provide the basis for progress on the numerous concerns within the Maldives,” he said.

Asked if he believed the Commonwealth should take action against the Maldives, Swire noted that the UK is not a member of CMAG.

“I have discussed these matters with the Commonwealth Secretary General,” he said.

“I understand that there has been a telephone conversation between CMAG members and that they keep the situation under continuous review.”

John Glen, conservative MP for Salisbury, urged the UK government to “resist complacency on the Maldives,” suggesting that “the current regime seems also to be a recruiting sergeant for ISIL in the Maldives.”

“There will come a time when the government will need to stand clearly on the right side of the argument and intervene more fully to secure justice in that country,” he advised.

In response, Swire said he has recently discussed the Maldives with the Indian foreign secretary and the US assistant secretary of state.

“Both my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and I have met Mr Nasheed’s wife, and Amal Clooney and other members of Mr Nasheed’s legal team, to discuss the situation. We are closely involved,” he said.

Asked about possible sanctions on the Maldives in late June, Swire had said that the UK government has not “discussed the possibility of sanctions with international partners, though we are keeping all options under review.”

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President appoints chancellors to Islamic university, national university

President Abdulla Yameen has appointed chancellors to the newly established Maldives Islamic University (MIU) as well as the Maldives National University (MNU).

Former MNU chancellor Dr Mohamed Zahir Hussain was appointed the the MIU’s first chancellor while Civil Service Commission (CSC) chairperson Dr Mohamed Latheef was appointed the new MNU chancellor.

President Yameen also appointed Dr Ali Fawaz Shareef as the vice chancellor of the national university.

Zahir Hussain is the chairman of newspaper Haveeru and had served as education minister for 11 years during the 30-year reign of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

He was appointed MNU chancellor in March 2012 following the resignation of former chancellor Dr Musthafa Luthfy in protest against the transfer of presidential power the previous month.

Today’s appointments follow the ratification of a first amendment to the Maldives Islamic University Act on Thursday.

The new law passed in April was due to come into force in August, but the first amendment fast-tracked the process of upgrading the Islamic College of Maldives or Kulliya to a university and required the president to appoint a chancellor.

Kulliya was officially declared an Islamic university on Thursday.

The appointment of a new MNU chancellor meanwhile follows ratification of amendments to the Maldives National University Act last week, which authorised the president to appoint nine members to the 13-member governing council, including the chancellor and the vice chancellor.

The president could previously only appoint the chancellor.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party had warned that the changes will compromise the MNU’s independence and politicise the institution.

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Government seeks to write off fines for illegal parking

The parliament today accepted for consideration amendments to the 2009 land transport law to write off outstanding fines for illegal parking.

Earlier this month, President Abdulla Yameen pledged to write off fines accumulated for traffic violations and illegal parking.

Following a preliminary debate, the government-sponsored legislation was accepted unanimously with 67 votes in favour and sent to committee for further review.

During today’s debate, several MPs said illegal parking has become commonplace in the capital after the president’s announcement. Motorcycles are parked outside homes, mosques, and hospitals, the MPs said.

The traffic situation in Malè is out of control and extensive revisions should be made to the law to tackle the problem, MPs contended.

Opposition MP Ahmed ‘ADK’ Nashid suggested issuing ‘certificates of entitlement’ after assessing whether a vehicle owner has the parking capacity and introducing ‘pay parking’ services.

The amendments propose leaving it to the discretion of the police to impound vehicles from parking zones after a week and either destroy or auction vehicles if owners do not come forward in 15 days.

If passed, the amendments would also exempt disabled persons from paying traffic fines or annual fees for their vehicles.

The traffic police would still be authorised at their discretion to impose fines for illegal parking, impound vehicles, and dock points from driving licenses.

Speaking at a function with youth supporters on June 6, President Yameen observed that the fines for some motorcycles impounded at the tow yard has reached up to MVR80,000 (US$5,188), which most youth were unable to afford.

“We have submitted a bill to the People’s Majlis to write off debt or arrears built up like this. So from the day this bill passes, those youth will no longer be in debt,” he declared.

According to a 2011 report by the Environment Protection Agency, one in six residents of the capital own a motorcycle.

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Disgraced ex CSC chair to be appointed high commissioner to Malaysia

President Abdulla Yameen has nominated the disgraced former chairperson of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) as the new high commissioner to Malaysia.

Mohamed Fahmy Hassan was removed from the CSC by parliament in 2012 after he was found to have sexually harassed a female staff member, but the Supreme Court had blocked the dismissal as “unconstitutional.”

Upon assuming office in November 2013, President Yameen appointed Fahmy as the deputy high commissioner to Malaysia.

In late May, the foreign ministry recalled former high commissioner Mohamed Fayaz from Malaysia saying he had failed to “adequately promote Maldives’ foreign policy interests in Malaysia.”

Fahmy was nominated for parliamentary approval today. The parliament will vote on the appointment following evaluation of the nominee by the national security committee.

The Supreme Court overruling parliament’s dismissal of Fahmy had meanwhile led to both Fahmy and his replacement Fathimath Reeni Abdul Sattar arriving for work.

The CSC eventually blocked Fahmy from accessing its offices in September 2013. A source said Fahmy’s fingerprint access was rescinded after the former commissioner continued to come to the office for a few minutes every day.

Fahmy was alleged to have called a female staff member over to him, taken her hand and asked her to stand in front of him so that others in the office could not see, and caressed her stomach saying ”it won’t do for a beautiful single woman like you to get fat.”

According to local media, the woman told her family about the incident, who then called Fahmy. Fahmy then sent her a text message apologising for the incident, reportedly stating, ”I work very closely with everyone. But I have learned my lesson this time.”

In response to the allegations, Fahmy told Minivan News previously that the female staff member had made up the allegation after she learned she had not won a scholarship to Singapore offered by the CSC.

Correction: this article previously said that President Yameen had appointed Fahmy as high commissioner to Malaysia. This is incorrect. The president had only nominated Fahmy’s name.

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Vice President told to return home, answer charges

President Abdulla Yameen has asked vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed to cut short an unauthorised trip to London and return to the Maldives.

A Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP told Minivan News today that the president asked Jameel to return and answer to the ruling party’s parliamentary group over his imminent impeachment.

But president’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali has said that “the president did not in any way ask the vice president to return to the Maldives.”

Muaz was not responding to calls at the time of publication.

Dr Jameel left to Sri Lanka last week after President Yameen authorised a medical leave.

The senior PPM MP said Jameel was due to return two days ago, but instead departed for the UK without informing the president’s office.

“We have tried contacting him repeatedly to ask him to meet with the parliamentary group. But he has not responded. We are trying to bring our problems to him and trying to find a mutual solution,” said the PPM MP.

An anonymous senior government official has meanwhile told Haveeru that Jameel phoned President Yameen yesterday and asked for an extended leave of absence.

However, the president reportedly told his deputy that he could take a holiday after answering to the PPM parliamentary group.

Meanwhile, the parliament today approved changes to its rules of procedure to fast-track the process of impeaching the vice president.

The new rules state the parliament can vote on removing the vice president without an investigation. The rules previously stated that a committee must investigate allegations against the vice president before a vote.

The amendment to the standing orders was passed with 52 votes in favour and 14 against.

Several opposition Jumhooree Party (JP) MPs and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mohamed Nazim voted in favour of the change.

The PPM and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) are preparing to file a no-confidence motion against Jameel this week.

A two-third majority or 57 votes will be needed to remove the vice president. The ruling coalition controls 48 seats in the 85-member house and appears to have secured the opposition’s backing.

Five MPs each from the JP and MDP have signed the no-confidence motion, the PPM has said.

The vice president must be given a 14-day notice ahead of the parliamentary debate on the resolution, according to the constitution.

Pro-government MPs have publicly accused Jameel of incompetence and disloyalty. PPM parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan said pro-government MPs are unhappy with Jameel over his alleged failure to defend the government during an opposition mass protest in the capital Malé in May 1.

The ruling coalition is seeking to replace Jameel with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

Some opposition politicians have claimed President Yameen is fatally ill and wants a more loyal deputy ahead of a life-threatening surgery, but Nihan has dismissed rumours over the president’s health.

PPM MP Mohamed Musthafa and MDA MP Mohamed Ismail meanwhile condemned the vice president’s departure on social media yesterday.

Musthafa said that the president did not authorise Jameel’s trip while Ismail said the vice president had “fled” the country.

Ismail said in a Facebook post today that Jameel’s exit lends credence to the allegations against him.

He suggested that Jameel was planning to bring the Maldives into disrepute in interviews with international media outlets.

Last week, the parliament passed the first amendment to the constitution with overwhelming multi-party consensus to lower the age limit for the presidency from 35 to 30 years. Adeeb is now 33.

The opposition’s backing for the constitutional amendment was widely perceived to be part of a deal made in exchange for jailed ex-president Mohamed Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest.

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MDP proposes Indian mediator for all-party talks

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has proposed asking the Indian government to assign a mediator for all-party talks in the Maldives.

MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy told the press today that the party believes an independent mediator is important to ensure a positive outcome. Fahmy said the mediator should be acceptable to all sides.

“India’s role has always been very important in resolving every challenge facing the Maldives’ political sphere. If a mediator could be arranged from India, we believe it will increase confidence both for the government and the MDP,” he said.

The talks between the government and MDP are due to begin after the opposition party agreed to enter negotiations without former President Mohamed Nasheed as a representative. The government had rejected the opposition leader as a representative on the grounds that he is serving a 13-year jail sentence.

Nasheed was transferred to house arrest this week in an apparent step towards political reconciliation.

Fahmy said the MDP will propose five papers for discussion with the government tomorrow, including a proposal for changing to a parliamentary system.

The MDP national council had compiled a draft paper earlier this month laying out a roadmap for political reconciliation. The paper had proposed transferring jailed opposition leaders to house arrest as a measure to build confidence and trust between the government and opposition.

The MDP’s proposals include conducting the talks among all political parties, including the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), dropping charges against opposition supporters arrested from protests, reinstating opposition supporters fired for attending protests, and reviewing disciplinary action taken against opposition councillors.

Other areas of discussion include reforming the judiciary through reviewing the composition of the Judicial Service Commission, restraining the powers of the Supreme Court, and setting a university degree as the minimum qualification for judges.

Under the party’s proposal for shifting to a parliamentary system, President Abdulla Yameen would remain the head of state and the current parliament would remain unchanged, Imthiyaz said.

The ruling coalition with its comfortable majority of 48 seats in the 85-house can designate a prime minister, he added.

Fahmy said the political instability the Maldives has experienced since the first multi-party presidential election in 2008 stemmed from shortcomings in the presidential system.

Coalitions led by the MDP and the PPM had won the 2008 and 2013 presidential elections, respectively, but soon disintegrated, Fahmy noted, contending that coalitions were incompatible with the presidential system.

The MDP is also proposing re-appointing members to independent commissions through consensus among political parties and formulating foreign policy to ensure peace and security in the Indian Ocean.

The Maldives should not be overly dependent on China and stay clear of “disagreements and disputes between India and China,” Fahmy said.

Both the MDP and Amnesty International has previously sought Indian pressure to secure the release of jailed opposition politicians.

The ruling coalition at the time condemned calls for Indian intervention as “irresponsible” while foreign minister Dunya Maumoon expressed confidence that India “will not intervene in domestic politics of Maldives.”

Following Nasheed’s arrest and prosecution on controversial terrorism charges in February, Modi dropped the Maldives from a tour of Indian Ocean neighbours in early March.

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Government seeks international engagement in conciliatory policy shift

The government has assured its commitment to “constructive engagement” with international partners and “structured political dialogue” with opposition parties in a conciliatory shift in policy.

The foreign ministry noted in a statement yesterday that imprisoned former President Mohamed Nasheed has been transferred to house arrest for eight weeks and pledged to keep the international community informed of the opposition leaders’ condition under a “broader commitment to strengthening transparency and dialogue.”

“This commitment to dialogue and cooperation with the international community is reflected in the government’s desire to foster strong and constructive relations with the opposition political parties in the Maldives,” the foreign ministry said.

“As with the development of reforms, the government recognises that the promotion of open and inclusive dialogue of this kind will take time. The government will continue to engage constructively with its international partners, and in particular with the Office of the UN Secretary General, European Union and the Commonwealth.”

The government had initially reacted to international criticism of Nasheed’s prosecution by dismissing statements expressing concern with the terrorism trial as “biased” and alleging undue interference in domestic affairs.

“The government of President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom will not take instructions from a foreign government on any issue in governing the country,” foreign minister Dunya Maumoon had declared in February, urging foreign countries and international organisations to “refrain from acts and signals that could undermine the sovereignty of independent states.”

In April, President Abdulla Yameen urged the armed forces to defend his administration claiming international pressure is undermining the Maldives’ sovereignty and weakening the rule of law.

The arrest of former President Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim in February and the pair’s subsequent imprisonment on terrorism and weapons smuggling charges, respectively, triggered a political crisis with daily protests, mass anti-government demonstrations and hundreds of arrests.

Yesterday’s statement noted that President Yameen has asked UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon to send a team to the Maldives to help resolve the crisis.

“President Yameen reiterated his pledge to ensure that a process of structured political dialogue with the opposition parties is realised,” the foreign ministry said.

International pressure has been mounting on the government in recent months to release “political prisoners.” Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest this week appears to be a step towards political reconciliation.

In April, the European parliament adopted a resolution calling for Nasheed’s release while earlier this month Senators John McCain and Jack Reed urged the US government to press for the opposition leader’s release.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron became the first head of government to call for Nasheed’s release yesterday.

In a tweet this afternoon, the foreign ministry said that minister Dunya spoke with UK Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Hugo Swire, today and offered updates on the Maldives’ situation.

“She noted that there are no political prisoners in the Maldives,” the foreign ministry said.

President Yameen also told the UN secretary general that there are no political prisoners in the Maldives

Jailed opposition politicians were convicted of criminal offences, he said.

According to the foreign ministry, the president assured Ban Ki-moon that the government was ready to engage in talks with Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party.

The conciliatory statements follow the enlistment of a law firm owned by Cherie Blair, the wife of UK’s former prime minister Tony Blair, to “strengthen the legislative framework of the government.”

The foreign ministry said yesterday that the government “considers its obligations towards legislative, constitutional and judicial reform as an integral part of its development plans”.

“As is the case for every state, successful and far-reaching reform takes time. This is especially true in a small state with limited resources; however, the Government remains committed to sustaining and building on the current rate of progress that has already been achieved in the Maldives,” the foreign ministry said.

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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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