President Abdulla Yameen delivered the annual presidential address today in the face of vociferous protests from opposition MPs at the official opening of the People’s Majlis for 2015.
Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) MPs gathered in front of the secretariat desk and clamoured for the release of former President Mohamed Nasheed, carrying placards that read, “Free President Nasheed,” as well as posters depicting police manhandling and dragging the opposition leader into court.
Nasheed remains in police custody pending the outcome of a trial on charges of terrorism.
Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MPs responded to opposition MPs’ chants of “Yaagunda resign” with “Ganjabo” and “Theyobidibo,” epithets referring to the former president’s alleged encouragement of drug use.
PPM and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) MPs held up placards that read: “Nasheed deserves to be in prison,” “Nasheed supports terrorism,” “Free Maldivians from Nasheed,” and “MDP must learn democracy,” .
“Gasim, first pay tax and then talk,” “You cant hide from the law Nasheed,” “It is time Nasheed should be put in jail,”and “Nasheed has to be tried for corruption of US$ 2 billion,” read some of the other placards.
Yameen’s second presidential address comes amidst a political crisis sparked by the arrests of former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and former President Nasheed. The opposition MDP-JP alliance organised a massive protest march calling for the pair’s release on Friday (February 27).
Meanwhile, journalists, foreign dignitaries, and state officials inside the gallery could not hear President Yameen’s address over the din. The chants from PPM and MDA MPs drowned out the opposition MPs.
Confrontations and verbal sparring between pro-government and opposition MPs occurred inside the chamber, with some PPM MPs snatching posters from MDP MPs.
Former PPM MP Ahmed Mahloof – who was carrying a placard calling for Nazim’s release – also clashed with former colleagues in the ruling party.
After concluding the address, President Yameen gave two thumbs up to PPM MPs and made a thumbs down gesture towards opposition MPs.
“Today we saw [opposition MPs] attempting to obstruct the president’s from fulfilling his responsibility under Article 84 of [the constitution],” tweeted President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali.
Article 84 states, “At the beginning of the first session of each year at the first sitting, the president shall address the People’s Majlis on the state of the country, and may present proposals for improving the state of the country to the People’s Majlis.”
Muaz also tweeted saying he was “ashamed” that opposition MPs were unaware of Article 84 whilst “inciting unrest in the country in the name of defending the constitution.” The MDP-JP alliance launched nightly protests last month against the current administration’s alleged breaches of the constitution.
Muaz also said President Yameen’s thumb down was “an advisory gesture” against obstructing constitutionally mandated duties.
“Delivering a presidential address while holding opposition politicians in jail is alien to democracy,” Minority Leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ‘Ibu’ told journalists before entering the parliament building.
The MDP parliamentary group leader called on the government to withdraw “political charges” against the former president.
Ibu told reporters after the sitting that the opposition has delivered a message to President Yameen on behalf of the public.
Echoing the minority leader’s sentiments, JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim said the international community views the prosecution of Nasheed and Nazim as politically motivated and warned of “economic sanctions” as a consequence, which could lead to “starvation” and “unrest”.
The MP for Maamigili reiterated appeals for Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin to withdraw the charges against the pair.
A crowd of opposition supporters were meanwhile gathered behind police barricades on Sosun Magu, a short distance from the parliament building.
According to a live blog on the police website, police confiscated megaphones after advising protesters not to use any loudspeakers as a school session was in progress at the nearby Majeedhiyya School.
Police pushed back protesters around 10:45am and set up barricades near the MDP office on Sosun Magu.
Anni ( Nasheed ) koffaivaa Qaanoonee kuh thakah adhabu haggu. pic.twitter.com/ay1ihEFRmV
— PPM Waddey (@Lawyer_Waddey) March 2, 2015
From Majlis chamber ! pic.twitter.com/iTwZ1LXJuN
— Ahmed Nihan (@ahmed_nihan) March 2, 2015
A very brave and a visionary leader. Well done, President Yameen. pic.twitter.com/U0Xoqi3MbC
— Abdullah Khaleel (@abkhaleel) March 2, 2015
— Abdullah Khaleel (@abkhaleel) March 2, 2015
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