Week in review: October 26 – November 1

The biggest headlines in the Maldives this week came out of the People’s Majlis, beginning with the MNDF going into the parliament to block the entrance of two opposition MPs who had been stripped of their seats by the Supreme Court.

After some scuffles, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ali Azim was handed over to police, who subsequently extended his detention to 15 days.

Azim had arrived to take part in the emergency session which eventually passed a motion supporting the transition of presidential power to the speaker of the house should no president-elect be determined by November 11.

After calling on the MNDF to ignore the Supreme Court’s decision to remove Azim and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party MP Mohamed Nashiz, Speaker Abdulla Shahid took the decision to appoint a serjeant at arms to oversee future security at the Majlis.

The constitutionally protected status of the Majlis premises was used to full advantage by MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor this week who sought sanctuary from arrest by police who wished to present him in court in relation to drug and alcohol offences.

After threats to try Hamid in absentia, the Criminal Court sentenced him to six months in prison for failure to attend hearings.

The Majlis also found time this week to receive the MVR16.4 billion (US$1 billion) budget for 2014, as well as accepting a bill that would criminalise calling for, endorsing, or taking part in a tourism boycott.

One person not present in the Majlis this week was now-former Attorney General Azima Shukoor, who was removed in a unanimous vote of no-confidence. This day’s proceedings were not without additional incident, however, as mysterious pills – rumoured to be laxatives – were found in a Majlis’ coffee machine.

The week’s events will not have reassured the Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, who wrote to Speaker Shahid requesting an urgent visit to the country to assess the situation.

Mandatory excess

MPs were not the only ones feeling persecuted this week, as Supreme Court took aim at MDP aligned broadcaster Raajje TV for allegedly defaming its reputation.  The station – decimated in an arson attack earlier this month – also reported fresh threats against its premises.

The Maldives Media Council and Reporters Without Borders joined station management in arguing that the police were acting outside of their mandate, encroaching upon an investigation that rightly fell within the purview of the broadcasting commission.

Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz warned media outlets that action would be taken against anyone found to be reporting “invalid information, if it relates to courts or judges”.

After levelling similar accusations against the police in relation the delayed election, the Human Rights Commission this week told Minivan News that it felt the police were now attempting to intimidate its staff.

It was the Supreme Court itself, however, that came in for the most stinging criticism this week as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay launched an offensive on the apex bench, accusing it of “interfering excessively in the Presidential elections”.

After being accused of “subverting the democratic process”, the Chief Justice quickly hit back, labelling Pillay’s comment “irresponsible” and “poorly researched”.

Reputation at stake

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office also expressed its concern this week that repeated delays to the presidential election could hurt the Maldives’ economy as well as its international reputation – something not helped by an attack on the Indian High Commissioner’s official vehicle.

FCO minister Hugo Swire urged stakeholders to allow the Elections Commission “the space needed” to prepare for the elections – a request not heeded by either the government nor the presidential candidates who pleaded with the EC to move polls forward in order to avoid the impending constitutional void.

The Elections Commissioner responded that an expedited poll was not possible, regardless of any amount of government assistance – not even the police’s new-found ability to verify fingerprints at 25 times its previous speed.

Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek also revealed that the EC had found at least four of the 18 people deemed dead by the Supreme Court annulment to be alive and “quite fed up”.

MDP candidate Mohamed Nasheed told the press of diplomatic murmurings regarding likely economic sanctions should no new president be found by November 11.

He went on to suggest the way out of the impasse might be for either one of the three candidates to pull out of the  poll, or for the Supreme Court to un-annul the first round – making the November 9 poll a two horse race.

Finally, the World Economic Forum’s gender gap index found the Maldives a mediocre place to be a woman, with the country scoring highly in terms of education and health but falling behind in economic and political parity.