Vice President resigns as threat of constitutional crisis looms

Vice President Waheed Deen has resigned from the government, stepping down from the post he assumed shortly after February 7 2012’s controversial transfer of power.

His resignation comes on final day of President Mohamed Waheed’s term, and has prompted speculation that President Mohamed Waheed may similarly step down.

While the Supreme Court yesterday dismissed a parliamentary resolution that would have installed the Speaker of Parliament and reiterated that President Waheed’s government would continue after November 11, Waheed himself has previously indicated his reluctance to remain in the post “even a day after November 11”.

Senior and mid-ranking Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) officers as recently as yesterday were appealing to their colleagues not to recognise the authority of the President and his cabinet after midnight November 10.

Should Waheed step down leaving both offices vacant, Article 124(b) of the Constitution would automatically pass power to the Speaker.

124 (b)In the event of the permanent incapacity, resignation, removal or death of both the President or the Vice President, and both offices becoming vacant at the same time, leading to an incapacity to carry out the duties of the President, until such time as a President and a Vice President shall be elected, the duties of both offices shall temporarily be carried out, in order of priority, by the Speaker of the People’s Majlis, or by the Deputy Speaker of the People’s Majlis, or by a member of the People’s Majlis elected by a resolution of the People’s Majlis, until successors in office are chosen.

The prospect of impending constitutional limbo was triggered following yesterday’s election, after second-placed candidate Abdulla Yameen refused to sign the voter lists ahead of the run-off vote scheduled for today, and insisted that the election be held after November 13.

In a stamped but unsigned ruling issued at 5:30am this morning the Supreme Court declared that the revote should be held on November 16, despite the Elections Commission and all candidates previously agreeing that it should be held today.

Elections Commission (EC) Director General Mohamed Shakeel told Minivan News this morning that the ruling meant no polling stations were allowed to open, no materials could be transported, or any other preparations to be made.

“It states that all institutions in the Maldives are ordered not to provide assistance to the Elections Commission,” he continued. “So then the police won’t help.”

The EC said the delay would cost the state a further MVR 30 million (US$2 million).

The US Embassy in Colombo meanwhile issued a new statement this afternoon slamming the behaviour of the Supreme Court.

“Efforts by the Supreme Court to repeatedly and unduly interfere in the electoral process subverts Maldives’ democracy and takes decision-making out of the hands of the people. It is imperative that Maldives proceed to a runoff election with no further interference so that the democratic process can complete the transition to new leadership,” the US embassy said in a statement.

“We are deeply concerned about the Supreme Court’s ruling today against the holding of the scheduled second-round election on 10 November. Because of the Supreme Court’s intervention, the Maldivian presidential elections will not be completed before the current presidential mandate expires at midnight on November 10, 2013.

“In situations of uncertainty, the people must have confidence in their Constitution and look to it for guidance. We urge all three branches of the government and the political parties to respect the letter and the spirit of the Constitution and halt the constant reinterpretation of the legalities involved,” the statement said.

“The November 9 election has shown the commitment of the citizens of Maldives to the democratic process and the ability of the Election Commission to efficiently hold free, fair and credible elections that reflect the will of the people.”

Commonwealth Special Envoy Sir Don McKinnon has also issued a damning statement on the conduct of the Supreme Court, and called for consideration of Article 124 – tacitly backing an interim government under the Speaker.

“In the absence of a political agreement, the people must look to their Constitution for guidance and have confidence in their Constitution. Article 124 makes clear the spirit and intent of the Constitution for situations such as the one the country is currently facing,” McKinnon stated.

“Article 124 reflects the basic democratic principle that the state’s power must always lie with the people and their elected representatives. This is the fundamental underpinning of the Constitution. Elected representatives speak for the people. I therefore believe that Article 124 offers the most appropriate guidance to avoid constitutional uncertainty and sustain the support of the people,” McKinnon said.

“As in most countries, an interim government would not be expected in any interim period, such as from 11 November to the swearing in of a new elected President, to take any significant decision or new policy initiative,” he added.

No role for international community: Yameen

Yameen lashed out at international pressure for elections during a press conference last night.

“There is no role for the international community in holding an election in any country, is there? An election is a domestic matter, isn’t it? What international organisations, ambassadors or foreign governments can do is appeal. But they will appeal to hold the election as soon as possible in accordance with Maldivian law, and we want to hold the election in accordance with the law as well,” Yameen said.

He accused the Elections Commission of not being properly prepared.

“At least 12 hours should be given to campaign for the election, shouldn’t it? The law provides time more generously than that. So for these reasons I said on behalf of PPM that I support holding the second round on November 11.”

“The international community would want to expedite the election. That is because there should be a President as early as possible at the start of a new constitutional term. Having an elected president on November 11 is what we Maldivians want as well, not just foreign parties. They will press for that but there is no role for international parties in elections,” he insisted.

The PPM candidate – half brother of former autocratic President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who ruled the Maldives for 30 years – claimed a constitutional amendment would be required for the Speaker to assume the presidency in the absence of a president-elect at the end of the presidential term.

“So even if it has been passed by Majlis, we don’t believe either then or now that it has any legal weight,” he said.

He said the Supreme Court has provided legitimacy for President Waheed to remain in office after the conclusion of his term, declaring that Waheed was willing to stay “to the extent that the public wants,” something which was noted “very clearly” at the meeting last week.

“Now the Supreme Court verdict has come the way President Waheed hoped for or wanted. So I am certain that President Waheed will stay with the Maldivian people at this most difficult time we are facing. I have no doubt about that,” Yameen said.

Deen’s phone was switched off at time of press.

Meanwhile third-placed candidate Gasim Ibrahim’s running mate, Hassan Saeed, a former Special Advisor to President Waheed, announced his retirement from politics to local media.


Vice President pushes for population consolidation plan

The Vice President Waheed Deen has called for the country to prioritise a population consolidation plan to foster sustainable economic development in Maldives.

With a total population of nearly 350,000, dispersed over 196 inhabited islands spread over a distance of more than 600 miles, the Maldives is one of one of the world’s most dispersed countries. The extremely dispersed population and small island communities have been long recognised as key challenges to the sustainable social and economic development of Maldives.

“Without population consolidation we cannot achieve sustainable economic development,” Deen contended, speaking to the media first time since taking office, after parliament unanimously endorsed the resort tycoon as the Vice President on April 25.

Deen observed that islands with population below 400 still demand services such as sanitation, harbors, schools and hospitals, but the distribution of such social and economic services to the remote and least populated islands is an economic burden due the state to the high expenditures.

“So where is the economy of scale?” Deen asked. “If government continues to spend on small island populations, the expenditure will turn out to be a waste.”

According to the new VP, people need to understand that they can have access to be better services under a comprehensive sustainable economic model if they live together. He identified capital Male’, Hulhumale’ and Addu city as key examples of such development.

“Divide and Rule”

Meanwhile, the new Vice President also shared concerns over several obstacles to the resettlement of the people into larger populations.

“A policy of divide and rule has long existed among us and we need to move away from this,” said Deen, well known for his philanthropic works and praised as “the founding father of local government in the Maldives” for spearheading efforts to introduce local governance through elected councils, before resigning as Atolls Minister in August, 2008.

“Getting votes in smaller populations are easier. However, if the community grows larger, influencing or controlling the people will not be easy,” Deen explained. “So, this is a very important point people needs to think about.”

He noted that detailed discussions on the matter are yet to be had with the government, but the issue remains a top priority: “I envision that people of Maldives will live in 25 to 30 islands. Each island will be of twice that of Hulhumale’. Around 60,000 to 70,000 will live on each island. This a a dream I see. I will try to make this dream come true.”

Currently, around 130 islands have populations less than a 1000, and others between 1000-6000, while Male’ accounts for one third of the total population, where the density of the population is over 40,000 per square kilometer.

Failed initiative

Deen’s remarks today on population consolidation mark a renewed ambition to follow through on the much awaited population strategy that has been discussed for a quarter-century, but has fallen short of making any significant outcomes. The former MDP government – now replaced by a coalition of former opposition parties – had favoured connectivity and transportation, but stopped short of relocation.

Population consolidation plans originated in the 1980’s under the banner of ‘Selected Islands Development Project’. However, concerned by the inefficiency of distribution of social services and basic infrastructure in islands with small population, and counter in-migration towards capital Male’, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s administration embarked on a revised resettlement program called the ‘National Population Consolidation Strategy and Programme’, published in 2001.

Under this proposed strategy, two regional growth centers were agreed to be created serving respectively the Northern and the Southern atolls. In addition, 85 focus islands were selected to receive a high order of services; the other inhabited islands, called primary islands would receive a minimum level of services and population would be encouraged through various forms of subsidies to move toward the focus islands and the regional centers

Resettlement of nearly 17 islands were reportedly under review during the Gayoom’s last term in office, but confronted by the aftermath of 2004 Tsunami and the pre-2008 democratic reforms, the population consolidation plans were pushed to to the background. The talks ultimately disappeared from the tables following administration of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) which lobbied for a national transportation network between the islands to boost connectivity and economic progress.


This government will not detain Nasheed, says VP Deen

Deposed former President Mohamed Nasheed will not be detained and government has no intentions to make the arrest, the new Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen said on Sunday.

Speaking at a press conference at the President Office, Deen contended that the current administration has no intention of “seeking revenge against anyone”.

“This government will not detain Nasheed. We are not even intending to do so,” Deen said in response to a question relating to allegations that President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan administration was seeking to arrest Nasheed, who insists he was  been forced out of office in an opposition-backed coup.

Criminal court issued an arrest warrant for Nasheed, two days after he resigned, but it was not executed by the police at the time.

Meanwhile, former President Mohamed Nasheed could face charges for his alleged role in the Maldives National Defense Force’s (MNDF) decision to detain Criminal Court’s Chief Judge Abdulla. The Maldives Police Service has sent the case against Nasheed to the PG’s Office but a decision by the office to proceed the prosecution is still pending.

A second case involving Nasheed has also been sent to the PG by the police, involving the confiscation of bottles of alcohol allegedly found at his residence shortly after his three year presidency ended on February 7.


New government meets US Ambassador, Rajapaksa

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan yesterday met United States Ambassador to the Maldives Patricia A Butenis.

According to a statement from the President’s Office, discussions were primarily on the current political situation in the Maldives.

“Particularly, the President briefed Ambassador Butenis on the National Unity Government and the progress of its Roadmap,” the statement read.

Vice President Designate Mohamed Waheeduddeen meanwhile met with President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka.

Visiting Sri Lanka as a Special Envoy of President Dr Mohamed Waheed, Waheeduddeen presented a letter to the Sri Lankan President, on his behalf.

“At the meeting, Waheeduddeen noted the close relations established between the two countries, and discussed hopes for further enhancing the ties both the countries share,” a statement read. “Further, Mr Waheeduddeen expressed his gratitude to the Sri Lankan government for the aid and support being provided to the Maldives.”

Dr Waheed’s political advisor, Dr Hassan Saeed, yesterday met with the Commonwealth in the UK, representing the new government. Former Maldives High Commissioner to the UK, Dr Farahanaz Faizal, represented former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Dr Saeed was also interviewed on the BBC.