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.