Committee composition approved at “unlawful sitting”: Z-DRP MPs

MPs of the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party’s (DRP) breakaway Z-faction vowed today to disrupt future sittings of parliament in protest of last night’s “unlawful sitting,” claiming that the revised committee composition voted through was not the same proposal agreed upon by parliamentary group (PG) leaders.

Today’s sitting was meanwhile cancelled after just 15 minutes when the Z-DRP MPs and Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed left their seats to protest in front of the secretariat desk.

With the latest forced cancellation, parliament has now been deadlocked since Tuesday (June 28) last week.

At a press conference after the cancellation, DRP Deputy Leader Ilham Ahmed argued that last night’s sitting was “unlawful” because MPs were informed via text message just two hours before it began.

Ilham’s Z-DRP colleague MP Ali Arif explained that MPs were not sent agendas as required by parliamentary rules nor provided details of the revised composition: “Therefore, as last night’s sitting was illegitimate and unlawful, we do not accept any decision made at the sitting.”

The Z-DRP MPs objected in particular to the composition of the coveted ‘241’ Security Services Committee, which the MDP could potentially control with the support of the two Independents Ali Mohamed and Ismail Abdul Hameed.

While the former resigned from DRP last month, the latter has a record of voting with the ruling party. However Velidhoo MP Ali Mohamed notably voted against the MDP to approve Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

Meanwhile Z-DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf alleged that Speaker Abdulla Shahid held a secret meeting with President Mohamed Nasheed after last night’s sitting.

All three Z-DRP MPs strongly criticised DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali as “incompetent,” reiterating their accusation against the minority leader of “making deals with the government.”

The Z-DRP MPs demand that last night’s vote should be invalidated and the committee composition revisited.

However the parliament secretariat has issued a press statement in response to the Z-DRP MPs’ claims, noting that the revised rules of procedure does not require MPs to be informed three days in advance.

It adds that both the agenda and items up for a vote could be viewed on the computers at each MPs’ desk.

Moreover, MPs were informed of sittings via text message on two occasions in the past: “The 79th sitting of the 17th parliament held on 28 December 2009 and the 26th sitting of the third session of 2010 on 20 December 2010 were held after MPs were informed on short notice via text messages. Those sittings took place at 8.30 at night.”

DRP response

Meanwhile at a press conference by the rival opposition faction, DRP Deputy Leader Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef defended the compromise agreed upon by DRP Leader Thasmeen following “a long negotiation process.”

Shareef revealed that Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim refused to enter into a formal coalition with the DRP “for some reason after [the coalition agreement] was signed and finalised to be sent to the Majlis secretariat. We are seeing the bitter [consequence] of that now.”

If the coalition agreement had been signed, the allied opposition parties in parliament would have been level with the MDP at 34 MPs each.

“Considering the composition of the People’s Majlis today, in circumstances where our coalition has less than 34 seats, there is no way that we could have got more than what we have achieved through negotiations,” he said. “We have not lost even one seat that we deserved.”

He added that the opposition retained control of influential committees such as the Public Accounts Committee and the Government Oversight Committee.

As it was “a political reality” that MDP were entitled to control of some committees, Shareef said that the Z-DRP MPs’ claims were “deliberate lies intended to deceive the public.”

The DRP deputy leader also warned that opposition politicians risked raising “doubts about our sincerity” due to the ongoing internal squabbles: “Any loss to the DRP is a gain for the government and a loss to the whole opposition effort.”

Shareef called on the Z-DRP to “set aside political rivalry and dreams of winning the 2013 presidential election for the sake of the nation.”

DRP MP for Thulusdhoo Rozaina Adam meanwhile pointed out that JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim had also voted to approve the compromise reached by PG leaders.

She added that Thasmeen held out on a compromise until leaders of minority opposition parties People’s Alliance, JP and the DQP endorsed the agreement.

“Last night’s sitting was held because opposition parties reached an agreement, not at all because the Speaker himself wanted it,” she said.

The DRP had also “sacrificed” its slots on some committees to allow Independents and DQP MP Riyaz Rasheed to have a seat, Rozaina said.

She added that the Independent MPs on the 241 committee were “two MPs that both sides believe to be neutral.”

Z-DRP MP Ahmed Nihan however told Minivan News today that the Z-DRP MPs’ protest last night sprang from concerns about the Speaker’s political affiliation.

“We strongly believe he has connections with the government as he is working to an unknown agenda in their favour,” he said.

Nihan added that he expects protests on the Majlis floor to continue indefinitely.

“Today, we are seeing the government appoint the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) to step in to run immigration here in the country,” he said. “How can we hold this government accountable if the opposition is not in control of the 241 committee?”


Fourth consecutive parliament sitting cancelled

Today’s sitting of parliament was cancelled by Speaker Abdulla Shahid less than five minutes after it began at 1:00pm with the parties deadlocked over the new composition of committees.

Following yesterday’s cancellation and the delayed start today, Shahid began with a statement regarding the dispute but was unable to continue reading it over the clamour of protesting MPs.

The Speaker said that the next sitting would be held after consultation with Majority Leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Minority Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali “when circumstances would allow the sitting to be held.”


Parliament cancelled over fight for control of committees

Tomorrow’s sitting of parliament has been cancelled to allow political parties to resolve a protracted dispute over the composition of standing committees, following the defection of two opposition MPs to the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) several weeks ago.

After adjourning today’s sitting twice to continue discussions with parliamentary group leaders, Speaker Abdulla Shahid announced the cancelation of both today and Wednesday’s sittings shortly after 1:00pm to grant an additional day for the parties to reach a compromise.

If the talks were to end unsuccessfully, said Shahid, the matter would be brought to the floor for a final decision when parliament sittings resume on Monday.

Parliamentary committees, which reviews approved legislation and exercises oversight over the executive and independent institutions, have not been functioning since the beginning of the current session.

The dispute has centred on which party would control voting majorities of powerful committees such as the ‘241’ (National Security) Committee, Economics Committee and Public Accounts Committees (PAC), all of which are presently chaired by opposition MPs.

Under article 170 of the Majlis rules of procedure that stipulates proportional representation, MDP are assured five out of 11 seats in the committees (45 percent) and four for DRP-PA (39 percent) while the two remaining slots must be filled by either Independents or MPs of minority opposition parties Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) and Jumhooree Party (JP).

Eight Independent MPs and four minority opposition MPs together account for 16 percent, posing a dilemma in dividing two seats among them.

At a press conference yesterday, MP Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih, newly-elected parliamentary group leader of the MDP, explained that the ruling party’s share of parliament (up from 39 percent to 45 percent) should be reflected in the committees.

The MDP MP for Hinnavaru revealed that the party was ready to accept a compromise of “six committees for us and the other six to the DRP-PA (Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party-People’s Alliance coalition),” adding that MDP was willing to leave the position of deputy chair of MDP-majority committees to the DRP-PA.

DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali meanwhile told newspaper Haveeru that the opposition would require half the seats of the Security Services Committee and the PAC in particular.

The embattled opposition leader argued that the opposition could not hold the government accountable should it lose control of committees designed to watch over executive functions, suggesting that the talks had stalled over this point of contention.

Thasmeen said that the crux of the problem was the fact that neither the MDP nor opposition parties controlled a clear majority of 39 seats in parliament.