The departure of seven members of the Maldivian cabinet following Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling that ministers cannot retain their posts without endorsement by the opposition-majority parliament has prompted President Mohamed Nasheed to reshuffle the cabinet.
The Supreme Court ruling came after opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) leader took the government to court on the matter after using its majority to disapprove the reappointments of seven cabinet ministers. MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) boycotted the vote in protest.
President Nasheed appointed Political Advisor Hassan Afeef as Home Minister, replacing Mohamed Shihab, who has been appointed Advisor on Political Affairs.
Shifa Mohamed has been promoted from Deputy Minister of Education to Minister in place of Dr Musthafa Luthfy. Both Afeef and Shifa received letters of appointment last night.
Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed has meanwhile resigned and been replaced by Minister of Housing and Environment Mohamed Aslam, in the post of acting minister.
Attorney General Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad, formerly the Tourism Minister, has also resigned and been replaced by Minister of Human Resources, Youth and Sports Hassan Latheef, as acting Attorney General.
Minister of Health and Family Dr Aminath Jameel has been appointed acting Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture in place of Dr Ibrahim Didi.
Minvan News understands that no acting minister has currently been appointed to the Defence portfolio, which will instead be directed by the President with the assistance of security advisors.
It’s not cricket
During a press conference held on Saturday evening at the President’s residence ‘Muleaage’, Nasheed briefly discussed the Maldives’ cricketing triumph over Saudi Arabia in the Asian Cricket Council’s (ACC) 2010 Trophy Challenge, before opening the floor to questions.
Nasheed denied that the parliament had impacted the functioning of government or that the Supreme Court’s ruling had crippled the executive’s ability to appoint cabinet in a highly partisan political landscape.
Instead, he stated, the ruling “makes interpretation of the Constitution much more clear, and should therefore assist governance. Other than giving us clarity, I don’t really see as an obstruction to governance. I see it as giving more clarity as to how go about it.”
The President said he did not regret the decision in June for cabinet to temporarily resign en masse in protest against obstruction by parliament, which opened the executive to a Majlis counter-attack by its refusal to approve ministerial reappointments.
There was, he said, “a bigger picture.”
“I do not regret what happened in June. Try to understand the political landscape and what was happening at that time – which became quite clear through the [leaked] telephone conversations.
“Elements in the opposition were bent on disrupting the government. In very many words we heard that they wanted to topple the government, and remove many cabinet ministers. Cabinet at that time felt it had enough justification to say it was very difficult to govern because of parliamentary obstruction.”
The political instability and “looming uncertainties” created in the resultant vacuum “created an environment where a Supreme Court could be established.”
“For us to be able to come up with a Supreme Court was a fair achievement,” Nasheed said, “and we were able to get that primarily because of a number of political uncertainties that were looming at that time.”
“Now that we have a Supreme Court, it is clear on how we have to proceed with affairs and implement the Consitiution. I think it is a fine experience and I really think that once we step back and have a look what has actually happened, we will be able to understand that there are many many silver linings.”
As for the resigned ministers, “they are very capable people and we will be using their services – if they are willing. I have already had conversatinos with them. I believe they are willing to serve the country and the people, and will continue to serving in the government. But they won’t be serving in cabinet.”
While the president was looking for “silver linings” in the dismissal of more than half his cabinet, Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair indicated that the rest of the executive was not quite as sanguine.
“The Supreme Court has returned the verdict that the opposition can use its ‘brute majority’, without citing any reasons for the disapprovals,” he said. “But it’s not the Supreme Court that refused consent, it was parliament, and people who were involved in the former dicatorship.”
The Supreme Court’s ruling, he said, had set a “disturbing precedent” for a any particularly vindictive majority opposition to perpetually refuse the appointment of ministers not of its choosing.
“Of all the ministers, [those disapproved] were the ones who had worked very hard to establish the Supreme Court and separation of powers, and do away with authorative power. And now it seems like the very same former establishment is punishing those forces,” Zuhair said.
He suggested that the opposition’s stubborness on the matter of endorsement by parliament, and lack of reasons giving for the dismissal of each minister, signalled a political grudge match “after they lost four key appointments when the cabinet resigned: the Chief Justice of the [interim] Supreme Court, who was known to be endorsed by them, the chief of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), who was also endorsed by them, chief of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) who was also endorsed by a DRP majority house, and the JSC Chief Mujthaz Fahmy, who appeared to be supportive of them. That may have rankled.”
“And there are other reasons – for instance, they have accused [Defence Minister] Ameen Faisal of involvement in the coup attempt of 1988, which he denies. [Former President] Gayoom’s judiciary at the time saw rebellion as a high crime, whereas in today’s multi-party democracy, someone going against the government is not a rebel.”
Deputy Leader and spokesperson for the DRP, Ibrahim Shareef, said the opposition was willing to give the President “the benefit of the doubt” and endorse any minister nominated, “as long as they can do the job.”
Shareef said it was too early to comment on whether the party would be endorsing the ministers currently pending parliamentary approval, including last night’s appointments to the Education and Home Affairs portfolios, Shifa Mohamed and Hassan Afeef.