Former president Mohamed Nasheed’s temporary transfer to house arrest has been extended as opposition parties announced tonight support for a constitutional amendment setting new age-limits for the presidency.
A family member has confirmed Nasheed’s three-day house arrest was extended to eight weeks, after a doctor advised a stress-free environment and rest for back pain.
The opposition leader is serving a 13-year jail term on a terrorism conviction relating to the arrest of a judge during his tenure. The rushed trial was widely criticized for its apparent lack of due process.
MPs of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and the Jumhooree Party (JP), at separate meetings, decided to back a ruling coalition proposed law to set an age limit of 30 – 65 years for the presidency.
The decision has fuelled speculation of a deal between the government and the MDP conditioning backing for the amendment on Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest.
Nasheed’s imprisonment has triggered a political crisis with three months of daily protests, historic marches and arrests numbering in the hundreds. Several foreign governments and the EU have called for his release.
The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) is seeking to replace vice-president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb. Adeeb is 33 now and ineligible for the vice-presidency as the Constitution states candidates must be 35.
PPM MPs have accused Jameel of disloyalty and incompetence, but opposition politicians and some media outlets have claimed President Abdulla Yameen is fatally ill and is seeking a loyal deputy ahead of a surgery.
The government has previously dismissed rumors regarding the president’s health.
The amendment is up for the vote at Wednesday’s sitting. A three-quarters majority or 64 votes will be required for it to pass.
The PPM and its ally the Maldivian Development Alliance only control 48 seats of the 85-member house. The JP has 11 MPs while the MDP has 22 MPs.
The JP, at a parliamentary group meeting, issued a three-line whip. Only seven of the 11 MPs reportedly attended the meeting.
Gasim Ibrahim, the JP leader and MP for Maamigili, is out of the country. The tourism tycoon has urged JP MPs to back the amendment and announced he will retire from politics when his five-year term as MP expires in 2019.
The government has frozen several accounts of companies belonging to Gasim’s Villa Group after slapping a US$90.4million fine claiming the money is owed in unpaid rents, fees and fines.
The MDP decided to back the constitutional amendment at a national executive council meeting tonight.
Even if the amendment passes, Dr Jameel can only be replaced if he resigns or if he is impeached with another two-thirds majority in the parliament.
The Department of Correctional Services extended Nasheed’s house arrest to eight weeks tonight following a consultation with a neurosurgeon at the ADK hospital, a family member said.
Nasheed, who was previously held at a high security jail in Maafushi Island, was transferred to house arrest on Sunday. President Yameen authorized the transfer.
An unnamed senior government official told newspaper Haveeru that the extension came on the doctor’s recommendation.
“The doctor, after doing an MRI, has recommended [Nasheed] two months of bed rest. The neurosurgeon says he needs bed rest and a stress-free environment,” he said.
Nasheed was brought to Malé on Sunday nearly a month after a doctor first recommended an MRI scan.
President Yameen has ruled out negotiations over Nasheed’s release in talks with opposition parties, and has recently rejected a clemency plea.