Parliament has approved the appointment of Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Nasheed and Attorney General Abdulla Muiz.
Muiz was approved by 74 out of the 76 members present while Naseem received 62 votes endorsing him as Foreign Minister, replacing Dr Ahmed Shaheed.
The appointments mark the end of an extensive cabinet reshuffle prompted by the short-lived resignation of Nasheed’s entire cabinet in July 2010, in a statement against what they described as the “scorched earth” politics of the opposition majority parliament.
However under the Maldivian constitution ministerial appointments are subject to parliamentary approval, and the opposition seized the opportunity to vote out seven of Nasheed’s 13-strong cabinet, and the Attorney General, during a vote in November 2010 that was boycotted by the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). The vote came after three weeks of disruption in parliament, with some sessions terminated by Speaker Abdulla Shahid – himself an opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP – mere minutes after opening.
Seven ministers – Finance Minister Ali Hashim, Education Minister Dr Musthafa Luthfy, Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed, Fisheries Minister Dr Ibrahim Didi, Home Minister Mohamed Shihab, Defence Minister Ameen Faisal and Attorney General Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad – did not receive a majority of votes from the 42 MPs in attendance during the November vote.
The government had contested that the only way ministers could be removed was through a majority vote of no-confidence, and further argued that parliamentary approval of ministers appointed by Nasheed was a “ceremonial” function.
“No consent does not amount to no-confidence,” the President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair argued at the time.
The question of whether ministers could perform their duties without parliamentary approval eventually went before the Supreme Court, which ruled in favour of the opposition. A number of Ministers, including Dr Ahmed Shaheed, resigned on the eve of the ruling.
However the opposition’s victory celebration following the December 2010 ruling was short-lived, and came to blows when Umar Naseer, the party’s dismissed Deputy Leader prior to his dismissal by the party’s disciplinary committee, and his supporters gatecrashed the venue. What had been an acrimonious war of words descended into an outright split of the party into factions loyal to either the party’s ‘honorary leader’ former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and elected leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and Speaker Ahmed Shahid.
The MDP saw the opportunity to rush the remaining appointments through parliament while the DRP was absorbed in internal politics; Thasmeen was accused by Naseer’s more uncompromising faction of “secret meetings” with President Nasheed.
In a vote last month, replacement Education Minister Shifa Mohamed (66 in favour) and Tourism Minister Dr Mariyam Zulfa (71 in favour) were approved by parliament. More surprising was that Home Minister Hassan Afeef and Transport Minister Adhil Saleem were both narrowly approved despite being unpopular with the opposition and claims by the party that it would impose a three-line whip to reject the two nominees. Several senior figures in the President’s Office privately acknowledged that they had held little hope for either.
The only casualty was Attorney General Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad, whom Nasheed had appointed to the post a second time after his first dismissal by parliament, and who was ousted by one vote.
That same afternoon President Nasheed appointed State Minister Ahmed Naseem as Foreign Minister and Solicitor General Abdulla Muizz as Attorney General, the subject of today’s approval, suggesting that the MDP may indeed have gained leverage in parliament at the expense of the fractured opposition.