Vice president’s lawyer barred from impeachment proceedings

The People’s Majlis has barred vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed’s lawyer from responding to charges on his behalf before an impeachment vote at tomorrow’s parliament sitting.

Jameel is currently in London, and had appointed former attorney general Husnu Suood to read out a response on his behalf. However, in a letter addressed to Jameel today, Speaker Abdulla Maseeh said the vice president himself must be present at the sitting, according to the Constitution.

A lawyer can only accompany Jameel and provide him with legal counsel at the sitting, the letter said.

Article 100 (d) states that the vice president shall have the right to defend himself in the sittings of the People’s Majlis, both orally and in writing, and has the right to legal counsel.

MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) have accused Jameel of incompetence and disloyalty. The vice president abruptly left the Maldives within a day of parliament approving a constitutional amendment that will allow President Abdulla Yameen to replace him with the tourism minister.

A two-thirds majority or 57 votes of the 85-member house is required to remove the vice president. The motion alone gained 61 signatures.

Jameel was asked for a response in early July, but did not respond within the 14 day period. PPM MPs have previously said he refused to comply with the president’s orders to return to the Maldives and answer charges.

The pro-government majority in the parliament has since amended Majlis standing orders so that an investigation is not required before impeaching the vice president. MPs have also set just 30 minutes for the vice president to respond to charges.

Suood told Minivan News today that the 30-minute response period was insufficient. He said he had been preparing a defense based on statements made by PPM MPs in the media as the parliament is yet to inform him or Jameel of details of the charges against him.

The Majlis secretariat told Minivan News that a copy of the impeachment motion had been provided to Jameel with the letter notifying him of the 14-day notice.

The motion, obtained by Minivan News, accused Jameel of incompetence, dereliction of duty, links with the opposition and failure to defend the government. The vice president is also accused of excessive expenditure from the state budget.

“No substantial evidence has been made public. I do not believe that president Yameen’s alleged lack of confidence in vice president Jameel is sufficient grounds for impeachment,” Suood said.

PPM parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan, however, said the president’s confidence in the vice president is crucial as he is to assume the responsibilities of the president in his absence.

Nihan said PPM MPs had gathered a large amount of evidence and information regarding Jameel’s alleged incompetence for over a year.

“Projects assigned to Jameel in sectors such as education and health had been stalled for about ten months. He also attempted to divide MPs by taking some of them on trips and making statements that may affect their confidence in the president,” he said.

“We also have evidence of Jameel’s official and unofficial involvement in the opposition protest on May 1,” he added.

Some 20,000 people took to the street on May 1 over former president Mohamed Nasheed’s imprisonment. Some 200 people were arrested in violent clashes.

Jameel has denied allegations of incompetency. In an interview with the New Indian Express, he said that he had been carrying out his duty as the President Yameen had ordered him to.

Opposition politicians have meanwhile claimed President Yameen is fatally ill and wants a more loyal deputy ahead of a life threatening surgery. The government continues to deny rumors of the president’s health.

The parliament in late June passed the first amendment to the constitution with overwhelming multi-party consensus to set the new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency and vice presidency. Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb is now 33. The constitution previously stated that candidates must be 35 years of age.


Ex president’s lawyer denied work visa

Jared Genser, a member of former president Mohamed Nasheed’s international legal team was denied a business visa upon his arrival in the Maldives today.

Genser, the founder of Freedom Now, an organization that works for the rights of political prisoners, entered Maldives on a tourist visa when he was denied the three-month work visa. He departed to Colombo after a few hours in Malé.

Genser is representing Nasheed along with Amal Clooney, the wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney, and Ben Emmerson, a UN rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights.

The three helped the opposition leader file a petition with the UN working group on arbitrary detention, requesting a judgment declaring Nasheed’s 13 year jail term on terrorism charges arbitrary and illegal.

Genser is expected to return to the Maldives to meet with Nasheed at a later date, a source familiar with the matter said. Nasheed was recently transferred to house arrest.

The government in the response to the UN working group insisted judges followed due process in Nasheed’s trial.

Diplomatic pressure has been mounting on President Abdulla Yameen’s government to release Nasheed and other jailed politicians, including two former defense ministers, a former MP of the ruling party, and the leader of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party.


PPM MPs slam Commonwealth ‘bullying’ as opposition MPs warn against isolation

Pro-government MPs have accused influential countries in the Commonwealth of “bullying” the Maldives and interfering in domestic affairs in a parliamentary debate on quitting the inter-governmental body. Opposition MPs warned that the current administration’s foreign policy would isolate the country.

President Abdulla Yameen had sought parliament’s counsel on the country’s membership of the Commonwealth following lobbying efforts for an assessment of Maldives’ alleged violations of the organisation’s principles with the imprisonment of opposition politicians, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.

In a letter to the speaker – read out at today’s sitting – the president noted that the cabinet had suggested a review of the Maldives’ role in the Commonwealth and requested the parliament’s advice on the issue.

In the ensuing debate, ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan said some Commonwealth members are trying to place restrictions on the Maldives and harm the country’s economy and tourism industry through the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group’s (CMAG).

The Maldives’ treatment in the Commonwealth was akin to “the weakest or quietest kid in the class being bullied by the biggest group or kid,” he said.

If the government decides to leave the Commonwealth, the PPM parliamentary group leader said he would fully back the decision.

PPM MP Riyaz Rasheed meanwhile called on MPs to propose immediately leaving the Commonwealth to the government.

The Commonwealth was demanding opposition leader Nasheed’s release from prison, Riyaz claimed, which was contrary to separation of powers and the constitution adopted in 2008 with the organisation’s assistance.

“[The Commonwealth] does not want Islam in the Maldives. They want to spread false religions here, they want to build temples here, they want to elect a leader here who can carry out their agenda,” he said.

The Maldives should not be “afraid” of the Commonwealth as unlike India and China the organisation has not provided significant aid to the country, he continued.

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’s human rights and democracy arm for a second time in four years.

The Maldives was placed on the CMAG’s agenda in 2012 “on an unfair basis, based on false allegations, and the country’s economy and democratic governance suffered significantly as a result,” Dunya said.

In mid-June, Canada had called on CMAG to “urgently put the deteriorating situation in the Maldives on its formal agenda,” prompting Dunya to accuse the Canadian government of hypocrisy. “Canada should address the cultural genocide it is alleged to have committed against native Canadians before trying to teach other nations about values of democratic principles and human rights,” she said.

Echoing Dunya’s criticism during today’s debate, ruling party MPs said the countries pushing for action against Maldives has committed serious crimes, such as “electoral fraud” and “cultural genocide.”

Others also called on the Commonwealth to apologise to the Maldives for taking action against in the wake of former President Nasheed’s controversial resignation in February 2012.

The Maldives was placed on the CMAG agenda from March 2012 to March 2013 after Nasheed resigned amidst a police and military mutiny. He later alleged he had been ousted in a coup d’état, but a Commonwealth-backed inquiry found the transfer of power to be constitutional.

Main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mariya Ahmed Didi advised the government to accept criticism from international partners “instead of saying we’re an independent country and becoming isolated from the world.”

The Maldives is dependent on imports and tourists and could not survive with an isolationist stance in an inter-connected world, she said.

MDP MP Eva Abdulla said Maldivian teachers, students, doctors, and athletes have received numerous opportunities through the Commonwealth in addition to assistance from member states.

The Commonwealth offers a platform for the Maldives to have its voice heard in the international arena, she said.

The Maldives could not achieve development and progress in isolation from the rest of the world, she continued, and foreign policy should be shaped accordingly.

“Temporary benefits or quarrels” should not dictate foreign policy or bilateral relations, Eva said.

The debate will continue tomorrow.

The CMAG in a recent meeting in London decided not to review the Maldives.

The president is authorized to determine. conduct and oversee the Maldives’ foreign policy according to the constitution.


Quitting Commonwealth will be “a huge mistake,” says vice president

Appealing to lawmakers to support the Maldives’ continued membership in the Commonwealth, vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel has said that quitting the intergovernmental body will adversely affect the Maldivian youth, women and business community.

The People’s Majlis, at the request of president Abdulla Yameen, is set to debate the benefits of Maldives remaining in the Commonwealth today.

Some member states are lobbying the body’s democracy and human rights arm, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), to take punitive action against the Maldives over alleged repeated violations of the organization’s principles, including the jailing of former president Mohamed Nasheed.

Quitting the Commonwealth will be a huge mistake, Jameel said in a statement issued from London today. “We should never allow the heat of politics to cause long lasting damage to national interests.”

The vice president noted that many of Maldives’ important partners are Commonwealth member states, including India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Singapore, Malaysia, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Continued good relations with Commonwealth member states is vital for the Maldives’ economy and security, he said. “It will be extremely naïve to think that snubbing an association in which our neighbours and partners play a leading role will not undermine our relations with them,” he said.

“It will be particularly foolhardy to quit the Commonwealth to spite the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group at a time when regional countries like India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan are sitting on CMAG,” he added.

Jameel is meanwhile facing impeachment by the People’s Majlis. A vote is expected on July 21. He abruptly left the Maldives within a day of the parliament approving a constitutional amendment that will allow President Yameen to replace him with the tourism minister.

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives’ attempt to impeach Jameel is the latest in a series of dizzying turn of events in Maldivian politics. The opposition backed the constitutional amendment in exchange for opposition leader Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest. Subsequently, the opposition and the government began talks in late June, raising hope of an end to a six-month long political crisis.

Diplomatic pressure has been mounting on President Yameen to release Nasheed and other jailed politicians, including two ex defense ministers, a former ruling party MP and the leader of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party.

The Maldives was first placed on the CMAG agenda after Nasheed’s ouster in 2012. A Commonwealth backed inquiry found the transfer of power to be legal.

As efforts to place Maldives on the CMAG’s agenda for a second time intensified in July, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon threatened to leave the Commonwealth, claiming the “country’s economy and democratic governance suffered significantly” as a result of the events of 2012.

The CMAG, however, decided not to review the Maldives at a recent meeting in London.

Jameel today praised Dunya for her “policy of engagement” and said her efforts had prevented the Commonwealth from taking punitive steps against the Maldives.

Calling on the Maldives to foster existing relationships, Jameel noted that many of Maldives’ students study in Commonwealth countries and benefit directly or indirectly from opportunities linked to the Commonwealth.

As a developing country, Maldives also benefits from various capacity building programmes in the Commonwealth, he said. The inter-governmental body plays a vital role in supporting the integration of small states into the global economy.

While maritime security is an important priority for Maldives, the partners it relies on for operational capacity and effectiveness are mostly from the Commonwealth, he said.

“At every major challenge the Maldives had faced over the past 30 years, the Commonwealth has proved to be a vital partner, supporting, guiding and assisting us to attain success. These include strengthening national sovereignty through the small state security initiative in 1989, claiming a vast portion of the Indian Ocean and its seabed to expand our national wealth in 2010, or in supporting democracy-building as in 2005-2008, and facilitating national healing through supporting the work of the Commission on National Inquiry in 2012,” he added.

President Yameen in November 2014 had declared a foreign policy shift to the East, claiming that economic cooperation with China does not involve the same challenges to remaining an Islamic state as posed by some Western powers.

The Maldives joined the Commonwealth in 1985.