Rumours that Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid and two other government-aligned MPs, Alhan Fahmy and Abdulla Abdul Raheem, have joined the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) are being widely circulated by local media.
Minivan News was unable to confirm the reports at time of press as Speaker Shahid and the other MPs were not responding to calls. The DRP has acknowledged the rumours, but has said it has not been officially informed of the switch.
Local media has also reported that government-aligned MPs Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed, MP Ali Azim and MP Hassan Adil are also preparing to join the opposition.
Speaker Shahid, Ali Azim and Nasheed are all from government-aligned Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP). The supposed reason for their defection, as reported in local media, was a clash within the party’s parliamentary group over its stand on recently scheduled no-confidence motion against Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.
A source in the MDP familiar with the matter alleged to Minivan News that the defection of the MPs was prompted after DRP Leader MP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali brokered a “last minute deal” with the government in return for DRP not voting against the minister.
According to a 2010 report by former Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem, loans totalling Rf1 billion taken out by Fonadhoo Tuna, a company owned by Thasmeen at the time, and luxury yachting company Sultans of the Sea, connected to the party leader, had yet to see any repayments.
Together the loans accounted for 13 per cent of the total amount loaned by the bank in 2008. Naeem commented at the time that defaults on bank loans issued to “influential political players” could jeopardise the entire financial system of the country.
DRP MPs Mohamed Nashiz and Ali Azim were summoned to court in November 2012 regarding the debts, just as parliament was voting to determine whether no-confidence motions against ministers could be taken in secret.
Those summons were in relation to a Civil Court ordering Mahandhoo Investments and Kabalifaru Investments – two companies with ties to DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali – to repay millions of dollars worth of loans to the Bank of Maldives Plc Ltd (BML). The verdict was also upheld by the High Court in October 2011.
MP Azim alleged at the time that President Mohamed Waheed Hassan and other senior members of the executive had approached him, offering to cancel the court summons if he agreed to vote for the secret balloting in a way they preferred.
According to the MDP source, ahead of the no-confidence motion on April 8 the DRP had “in principle agreed” to vote against the minister, but had changed their minds at the last minute. Speaker Abdulla Shahid was “left no choice but to call off the session”.
Shahid called off the parliamentary session following point of orders taken by opposition MDP MPs over the issue of the secret ballot, which the Supreme Court had overturned despite parliament’s earlier vote in favour.
Upon concluding the session Speaker Shahid announced that the matter raised by MDP MPs regarding Supreme Court’s decision had been sent to parliament’s General Affairs Committee. He said the committee will review the decision and begin working the following day.
Despite the rumours, the DRP MPs have been in no hurry to confirm the reported switch.
Speaking to Minivan News, MDP Spokesperson MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed that “a re-alignment in favour of the opposition is definitely happening”.
“I can confirm you as I am a parliamentarian myself that several parliamentary groupings who previously stood behind the old dictatorship are slowly dismantling now. They have now started to realise that backing an old dictatorship is wrong,” said Ghafoor. “I can guarantee you that a re-alignment is definitely happening and dismantling of the old dictatorship is imminent.”
However Ghafoor declined to reveal the names of those MPs involved in the claimed switch.
Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader Ibrahim Shareef said the party had received no official confirmation that Speaker Shahid or any of the party’s MPs had resigned from the party or were looking to switch to the MDP.
However, Shareef said he could not rule out the possibility of such a switch in the current political climate, citing that political defections “occur very fast in this country”.
“Anything is possible” he admitted. “As far as we are concerned, there are a lot of rumors right now about a political switch.”
Should the defections happen as rumored, the number of opposition MDP MPs will be 35 – just 4 MPs short of the parliament’s simple majority required for the dismissal of cabinet ministers and pushing through legislation.