President Mohamed Nasheed insisted today in the face of repeated queries by the press that opposition-aligned People’s Alliance (PA) MP Abdulla Yameen’s detention or “protective custody” was not unconstitutional.
As a court of law has not ruled that the detention was unlawful, said Nasheed, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) acted within the bounds of the law and the constitution.
“It’s going to be very difficult for us to legitimise the process [of the corruption investigation] through the present judiciary,” he acknowledged, adding that while a new President and Parliament had been elected after the ratification of the constitution in August 2008, the judiciary remained unchanged.
“We have done nothing to upgrade or bring the judiciary to the present constitution’s standard,” he said. “So unless and until we do something about that it’s going to be very difficult for us to legitimise [the cases], for the people to understand how the judiciary works.”
He stressed that “all the arrests, actions and omissions” of the government were within the bounds of the law.
“There’s not a single step that I have taken that cannot be completely and fully justified in a court of law,” he claimed.
Asked about his remarks at an MDP rally on “stepping outside the chart”, Nasheed explained that “chart” was commonly used to refer to either “a process, or an agenda, or a manifesto, or a roadmap.”
Opposition parties have strongly condemned Yameen’s detention, arguing that rule of law no longer existed in the country following the intervention of the military.
Meanwhile, a letter sent to parliament yesterday by Defence Minister Ameen Faisal states that Yameen was taken into “protective custody” by the MNDF under legal authority granted by articles 105(b) and 243(a) of the constitution.
As an angry crowd outside Yameen’s residence was “expressing hostile sentiments and throwing stones”, it continues, and riot police were in need of reinforcements, MNDF took into consideration the threat to public safety posed by a possible confrontation between the crowd and a second group that was gathering in opposition.
Moreover, it adds, at a time when “cases related to national security” were emerging, MNDF decided that Yameen had to be placed under “protective custody” for the security of both Yameen and the community.
“As the situation in Male’ was worsening, the national security council held a meeting on July 15 2010 and decided to keep Yameen under protection,” it reads. “He is now being held in light of secret information that emerged during an investigation conducted under article 24(a) of the Defence Forces Act following violent clashes between Yameen’s supporters and those opposed to him and the sudden unrest in the political sphere.”
Asked whether Yameen would be released to participate in any cross-party talks, President Nasheed replied it would require the national security council chaired by the Commander-in-Chief to believe the situation that warranted the move had changed.
“I can’t take a risk when it involves a person’s security,” he said.
President Nasheed was further adamant that his administration would not face any international pressure or sanctions due to Yameen’s detention.
He had personally explained the situation clearly to leaders of friendly nations during the past week, Nasheed said.
International pressure was brought to bear on countries “when people are put in solitary confinement for 18, 19, 20, 22 months on end, pilloried, handcuffed, when people are killed and their property confiscated.”
As the current administration would not commit such “atrocities,” Nasheed reiterated he had “complete confidence” that the country would not face international pressure.
The Supreme Court ruling ordering the release of accused MPs Abdulla Yameen and Gasim Ibrahim had “in a sense invalidated the Police Act” and undermined police ability to maintain law and order.
It was under such circumstances, said Nasheed, when people were gathering outside the MPs homes in protest, that the decision to “isolate” Yameen was made.
On the alleged corruption and bribery in parliament, Nasheed said police will conclude their investigations and forward cases to the Prosecutor General’s office.
The president hinted that he would offer clemency to opposition politicians found guilty in court.
While police have complained of obstacles to their investigation of “high-profile corruption cases”, President Nasheed argued that “some laws” passed by the parliament were making it difficult for a presidential system to function effectively.
“In my view, the essence of this is connected to the form of the constitution,” he said, adding that teething issues in implementing the constitution must be resolved.
There were two ways to resolve the present constitutional crisis, said Nasheed, both of which involve bringing amendments to the constitution.
“One way is for all political parties to agree to amend the constitution to change to a parliamentary system,” he suggested, adding that he was ready to face any election in the event.
As the existing constitution allows parliament to block executive functions, said Nasheed, the government could neither ensure economic development nor offer basic services effectively.
“If opposition political parties did not believe [changing to a parliamentary system] would be best, the second way is for us to perfect the presidential system,” he said.
The second option would be to amend the constitution by adding provisions “to the extent that [the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party] DRP called for when it advocated for a presidential system” in the October 2007 public referendum.
While the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) campaigned for a parliamentary system at the time, Nasheed said both systems were beneficial but “a middle way” was not practical.
“Either perfecting the presidential system or changing to a parliamentary system [is the choice],” he said.
As DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali has signalled the opposition’s desire for dialogue, President Nasheed said he was willing to engage with opposition MPs to resolve the deadlock in parliament, adding that he hoped the process would begin today.