Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed has called for parliament to appoint a ‘sergeant-at-arms’ to enforce discipline in the chamber, after weeks of disrupted sessions caused by rowdy MPs.
The situation came to a head today, with the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) on standby to ensure the continued functioning of the legislature.
Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim terminated the session this morning after opposition MP Ali Arif refused to leave the chamber on instruction. The military was not deployed in the chamber.
Minivan News last week witnessed MPs from former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s ‘Z-DRP’ faction of the opposition chasing Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid as he left the parliament chamber. Journalists and the public were subsequently removed from the gallery.
“I think that was a bit extreme. In my opinion it should not have got to that level,” said MP Nasheed today. “No one person or party within an institution should be capable of bringing it to a halt, be it a minister of cabinet, a judge on the bench or a member of a commission.”
At the same time, “parliament being parliament, the nature of the beast is that we allow a greater latitude for sentiment.”
The government’s decision to deploy the military to ensure order in the chamber was “not sensible”, he observed: “That is a shortcut.”
The key issue, he said, was that the new parliament had not yet applied rules in its regulation governing enforcement of discipline through the formal appointment of a Sergeant-at-Arms, as provided for.
“We have instead focused on the greater latitude and freedoms to say what we think,” he said.
“We have seen occasional sporadic disruption, and sometimes organised disruption – by both major parties.”
“That scenario has led to a cumulative ignoring of discipline. MPs used to stand in their chairs, then they went up to other members, now they go right up to the secretariat. That is a line that hasn’t been crossed yet, and discipline has deteriorated,” Nasheed said.
Despite last week’s pursuit of the Speaker, there was “no risk of physical harm”, he suggested. “I don’t think parliament has got to the level where MPs will personally inflict physical harm on the Speaker.”
Nasheed recommended the Majlis follow the example of other parliaments and allocate a force under the direction of a Sergeant-at-Arms, to enforce discipline.
“Some parliaments have a paramilitary force, while others have a unit of the army or police seconded to parliamentary security,” Nasheed explained. “They have a different uniform and answer to the speaker. Given our resources I think it is fine to take a police or military unit and second it to parliament, under a man we appoint as sergeant-at-arms.”
The disruption of parliament by the opposition MPs comes scarcely weeks after the publication a ‘Parliament Watch’ report by NGO Transparency Maldives, which noted that a quarter of all sittings held last year ended in disruption.
Parliament’s first votes of the June session saw MPs voting against a motion to cut a controversial Rf20,000 in committee allowances – an effective 33 percent salary increase that sees Maldivian MPs earning on par with those in Sweden. A quarter of the chamber was absent during the vote.
At the same time, Transparency Maldives noted that key bills of national interest, including bills vital to the state and preservation of justice, such as the evidence bill, right to information bill, political parties bill, penal code bill and drugs bill “remain stagnated at committee stage”.
MP Nasheed dismissed ruling party speculation that the present disruptions were an attempt by the opposition to delay the passing of such bills, although he acknowledged that “Yes, the agenda will suffer because of this.”
“Half the session has been consumed because of this delay over the constitution of committees, but I don’t think the opposition is deliberately trying to disrupt the agenda,” he said, suggesting that the political divide and sentiments remained deep.
The opposition MPs have complained of the manner in which the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) last week gained control of parliament’s two most powerful committees, concerning finance and national security.
“Some people are objecting to the way the committees were constituted, others at the way it was endorsed in parliament,” Nasheed said.
“At 6:30pm MPs were sent an SMS message saying there would be a session at 8:30pm, lasting for five minutes, with one item on the agenda – the proposed parliamentary setup. Members did not take time look compositions, and there was no debate.”
Nasheed said that such an extraordinary vote was unnecessary, “as there was bipartisan support and it would most likely have been passed [anyway] during normal voting hours.”