The Jumhooree Party (JP) has today changed its stance on the controversial special economic zones (SEZ) bill, opting to support the government in the Majlis.
In the last parliamentary session prior to the recess, parliament has begun voting on the bill with the JP issuing a three-line whip to its 12 MPs in support of the legislation.
The party’s leader Gasim Ibrahim, who has previously spoken publicly against the bill, has recently claimed to have been the victim of government attempts to impede his various business interests.
The Majlis voted to continue today’s session until all 200 of the proposed amendments have been voted on – most submitted by the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
The MDP had proposed to return the bill to a committee for further review, although this proposition failed with 57 of 73 parliamentarians present voting against it.
While the MDP has submitted over 180 amendments, the JP has also submitted about ten amendments, with the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) submitting a similar number, local media reports.
The MDP has contended that an 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, however, maintains that SEZs with relaxed regulations and tax incentives were necessary both for foreign investors to choose the Maldives over other developing nations and to launch ‘mega projects,’ which President Abdulla Yameen has said would “transform” the economy through diversification and mitigate the reliance on the tourism industry.
PPM Parliamentary Group leader Ahmed Nihan is reported in local media as having criticised the MDP for submitting “a large number of bills with the intention of creating long delays”.
Three line whip
Despite Gasim’s previous public opposition to the bill, the JP today announced today that it would enforce a three-line whip in voting for the SEZ bill.
The decision was reached unanimously in a parliamentary group meeting, according to JP MP Abdulla Riyaz.
Previously, the party leader Gasim had boycotted the committee reviewing the legislation,warning that an SEZ law would facilitate massive corruption and threaten independence.
The change in the party’s stance closely follows the state’s cancellation of various business agreements made with the JP leader’s business Villa Enterprises.
On Monday (August 25), the Civil Aviation Authority downgraded Gasim’s Villa International Airport based on the MP’s constituency island of Maamigili to domestic status.
Similarly, on August 14 the government terminated an agreement with Villa Air to develop and manage the regional airport on Gaaf Dhaal Kaadehdhoo, while the fisheries ministry has also decided to reclaim Laamu Atoll Baresdhoo from Villa, stating that the company had not used it for the agreed purpose.
President Yameen has denied that politics has played any part in the recent reversals to Gasim’s business interests.
Maamigili MP Gasim has also been in receipt of death threats in recent weeks, with the party releasing a statement suggesting rival politicians were behind this intimidation.
“The death threats are being issued to Honourable Gasim Ibrahim by those displeased or threatened by his efforts in the People’s Majlis, the media, and various other arenas for the benefit and wellbeing of the Maldivian people, in a planned attempt to intimidate him and push him back politically with politicians behind these threats,” the JP contended in an August 17 press statement.
Following Gasim’s crucial decision to support Yameen’s 2013 presidential election bid, his party joined the PPM and Maldivian Development Alliance in contesting the March parliamentary polls as part of the Progressive Coalition,
The PPM severed its coalition agreement with the JP in May, however, after Gasim stood for post of Majlis speaker despite the PPM fielding its senior MP Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed. The JP has since sought reconciliation.
The remaining Progressive Coalition members control 48 seats in the 85-member People’s Majlis.