Parliament cancelled over fight for control of committees

Tomorrow’s sitting of parliament has been cancelled to allow political parties to resolve a protracted dispute over the composition of standing committees, following the defection of two opposition MPs to the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) several weeks ago.

After adjourning today’s sitting twice to continue discussions with parliamentary group leaders, Speaker Abdulla Shahid announced the cancelation of both today and Wednesday’s sittings shortly after 1:00pm to grant an additional day for the parties to reach a compromise.

If the talks were to end unsuccessfully, said Shahid, the matter would be brought to the floor for a final decision when parliament sittings resume on Monday.

Parliamentary committees, which reviews approved legislation and exercises oversight over the executive and independent institutions, have not been functioning since the beginning of the current session.

The dispute has centred on which party would control voting majorities of powerful committees such as the ‘241’ (National Security) Committee, Economics Committee and Public Accounts Committees (PAC), all of which are presently chaired by opposition MPs.

Under article 170 of the Majlis rules of procedure that stipulates proportional representation, MDP are assured five out of 11 seats in the committees (45 percent) and four for DRP-PA (39 percent) while the two remaining slots must be filled by either Independents or MPs of minority opposition parties Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) and Jumhooree Party (JP).

Eight Independent MPs and four minority opposition MPs together account for 16 percent, posing a dilemma in dividing two seats among them.

At a press conference yesterday, MP Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih, newly-elected parliamentary group leader of the MDP, explained that the ruling party’s share of parliament (up from 39 percent to 45 percent) should be reflected in the committees.

The MDP MP for Hinnavaru revealed that the party was ready to accept a compromise of “six committees for us and the other six to the DRP-PA (Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party-People’s Alliance coalition),” adding that MDP was willing to leave the position of deputy chair of MDP-majority committees to the DRP-PA.

DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali meanwhile told newspaper Haveeru that the opposition would require half the seats of the Security Services Committee and the PAC in particular.

The embattled opposition leader argued that the opposition could not hold the government accountable should it lose control of committees designed to watch over executive functions, suggesting that the talks had stalled over this point of contention.

Thasmeen said that the crux of the problem was the fact that neither the MDP nor opposition parties controlled a clear majority of 39 seats in parliament.