Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed has narrowly survived a vote of no-confidence initiated by the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party-People’s Alliance (DRP-PA) coalition.
Of the 73 MPs in attendance, 37 MPs voted in favour of the motion, two abstained and the rest did not participate in the vote. A majority of the full membership of parliament, or 39 votes, was needed to remove the foreign minister.
The DRP-PA coalition has 35 MPs. The independents who voted in favour of the motion were Eydhafushi MP Ahmed “Redwave” Saleem, Guraidhoo MP Ibrahim Riza, Kurendhoo MP Ahmed Moosa and Kudahuvadhoo MP Ahmed Amir.
As speaker, Keyodhoo MP Abdullah Shahid of the DRP could not vote, while Feydhoo MP Alhan Fahmy of the same party joined the MDP MPs and other independents in not participating in the vote.
The two MPs who abstained were Kulhudhufushi South MP Mohamed Nasheed, an independent, and Maamigili MP Gasim Ibrahim of the Republican Party.
Presenting the motion, Thohdhoo MP Ali Waheed of the DRP said it was based on allegations that the foreign minister misled the public regarding ties with Israel and placed his personal interest first.
“[It was submitted] because we have seen behaviour from Dr Shaheed in formulating the country’s foreign policy and implementing it that did not befit a government minister and because we see that he has put his personal interest above the nation’s to remain as a minister by any means possible,” he said.
At a press conference on 15 September, he continued, the foreign minister said the government was in the process of establishing ties with Israel and he did not see any reason not to pursue it.
But, Waheed said, on 25 September it was reported in the international media that the Israeli foreign ministry had confirmed that diplomatic relations had been established and important agreements had been signed.
“So far the Maldives’ foreign ministry has not issued a statement about this,” he said.
Waheed said although Shaheed told Haveeru Daily on 7 October that diplomatic relations would not be established without properly explaining the matter to the public, the foreign ministry had issued a press release 16 days before about agreements that were signed with Israel.
“Arab-Islamic countries and especially OIC [Organisation of Islamic Conference] countries will definitely not approve of the Maldives establishing such ties with Israel,” he said.
He added establishing ties with Israel would compromise national security and lead to terrorist organisations targeting the Maldives.
In his statement, Shaheed denied that full diplomatic ties had been established with Israel.
As the motion was sent to the foreign ministry on the afternoon of 27 October, he said, the minimum 14-day notice stipulated in the constitution had not been given.
“On 17 November, 2007, regarding the motion of no-confidence against the attorney general, the speaker of the parliament at the time ruled that it could not be accepted as it was submitted without a substantial reason,” he said.
While a precedent had been set, he continued, it was questionable why the motion was tabled.
Shaheed said a vote of no-confidence could be justified only in cases where a minister had committed a serious crime or grossly neglected his duties.
The opposition’s motion did not fit the criteria as it does not back up the allegations with specific examples or clarify how his personal interest was prioritised, he said.
The only agreements signed with Israel were Memorandums of Understanding for assistance in tourism, agriculture and health, he continued, while the claim that the Israeli foreign ministry announced that ties had been established was untrue.
A statement on the Israeli foreign ministry website stated that the agreements were an important “first step to normalise relations”, he said.
Shaheed offered copies of agreements for diplomatic ties and other documents that prove the former government decided to normalise relations with Israel in June 1994 under three phases.
The three phases were allowing Israelis to travel to Maldives, announcing opening up of trade and establishing full diplomatic relations.
Shaheed further offered copies of a research that showed that countries that established diplomatic relations with Israel did not face terrorist attacks.
Other small countries such as Micronesia that vote with Israel at the UN have not been attacked, he said.
Further, he added, 27 countries in the OIC had diplomatic ties with Israel.
Concluding his statement, Shaheed said it was regrettable that MPs had neither questioned him nor summoned him to a committee to clear up the allegations before submitting the motion.
“Whether or not Maldives has established ties with Israel is clear in black and white,” he said. “It does not leave any room for debate. It can be cleared up by a single phone call, a single letter or a single website.”
During the debate, MDP MPs and some independents severely criticised the opposition for submitting a motion based on unfounded allegations.
Most MPs said the motion was politically motivated and was intended to hamper the government.
Opposition DRP-PA MPs spoke about the atrocities committed by Israel against the Palestinian people.
Ungoofaru MP Dr Afrashim Ali and Vili-Maafanu MP Ahmed Nihan quoted verses from the Quran that cautioned against friendship with Jews and Christians.
Ali Waheed said if Shaheed was strapped to a polygraph test, the machine would blow up.
Alhan Fahmy, who voted against the party line, said he met the foreign minister and found that the allegations were untrue.
The opposition’s activities should be more responsible and since the president was empowered to formulate the foreign policy, the no-confidence vote should be against him.
“The reason we show should be acceptable,” he said. “Today, I don’t believe that this reason is valid. This is a very sad day in my political career as I have to talk against the party that I sacrificed for.”
He added that seeking a motion of no-confidence against the foreign minister did not amount to holding the government accountable.