Parliament entered its third week of deadlock with the imposed cancellation of today’s sitting by Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim after opposition MP Ali Arif refused to comply with an order to leave the chamber.
Arif and his fellow MPs of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party’s (DRP) breakaway Z-faction had vowed to disrupt future sittings in protest of the “unlawful sitting” last week where a compromise to revise the composition of committees was approved by a 36-1 vote.
Shortly after today’s sitting began at 9.00am, the DRP MP for Vaikaradhoo was protesting in front of the secretariat desk when Nazim – presiding in the absence of Speaker Abdulla Shahid – ordered the MP out after repeatedly advising Arif to return to his seat.
“Article 54 of the rules of procedure states that an MP [ordered to leave the chamber] cannot participate in the remainder of the sitting,” said Nazim, announcing the cancellation after resuming the sitting around 11.15am. “Therefore, I cannot continue today’s sitting with the MP participating.”
At last week’s sitting on Tuesday (July 5), which took place at 8.30pm following repeated cancellations, Z-DRP MPs contended that the committee issue was tabled in the agenda in violation of parliamentary rules. In addition, the MPs claimed that the sitting was not legitimate as they were were informed on very short notice via text messages.
However Speaker Abdulla Shahid pushed ahead with the vote while MPs of the Z-faction along with minority opposition People’s Alliance (PA) and Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MPs were out of their seats protesting in front of the secretariat desk.
After the result was announced, MPs of the rival opposition faction chased Speaker Shahid, loudly berating him as he left the chamber.
The announcement was met with cheers and applause from MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
While journalists at the public viewing gallery were hurriedly ushered out, Minivan News understands that security personnel and some MDP MPs stepped in between the Speaker and his former colleagues.
Calling in the MNDF
Meanwhile in the wake of the Z-DRP MPs’ threats to disrupt future sittings, Major General Moosa Ali Jaleel met with opposition MPs yesterday. The army chief reportedly informed them that the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) would escort MPs out of the chamber should they refuse to comply with orders from the Speaker.
Following the meeting, Z-DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf told press that Jaleel discussed with them the legal obligation of the MNDF to uphold the Speaker’s authority and to ensure the safety of all MPs.
Article 105 of the constitution tasks the army with maintaining “the security of the House of the People’s Majlis, all property attached thereto and all offices and facilities where its work is conducted” as well as “ensuring the protection and safety of all members of the People’s Majlis.”
Moreover, the Defence Forces Act empowers the army to enforce the Speaker’s rulings to maintain order in the chamber.
Mahlouf claimed that the involvement of the MNDF signified “a deal made between President [Mohamed] Nasheed, Speaker Abdulla Shahid and DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali to destroy us.”
Speaking in his weekly radio address on Friday, President Nasheed made an appeal to the Z-DRP MPs to let parliament resume its legislative responsibilities as “such attempts [to disrupt sittings] are in truth attempts to bring the state to a halt.”
“For three or four people to come out and try to bring the state to a halt is surely not wise,” he said. “If the Speaker wished to do something special in a particular way, I do not doubt that he has the means to do it. The state has means that can be used to speed things up.”
Speaking to Minivan News today, Z-DRP MP Ahmed Nihan explained that the MPs were mainly objecting to last week’s “unlawful sitting.”
“If the Speaker accepts that the sitting was unlawful and considers having another sitting to appoint MPs to the parliament committees, the major issue will be solved,” he said.
He added that it was “a big joke” that the MNDF’s legal department was offering legal advice to parliament: “They have said it is their duty to protect the parliament and to maintain the rule of law.”
Nihan suggested that MPs “felt intimidated” following the MNDF’s legal advice to the Speaker.
“The Speaker has the authority to take other actions against MPs who do not follow the regulations, such as cutting an amount from their salary,” he said. “Now this country is becoming like Myanmar [Burma] has been in the past years – the Maldives is bit by bit turning to a military rule.”
Nihan added that he would also like to clarify “whether it was the President or Speaker Abdulla Shahid that asked MNDF to [intervene in parliament].”
MNDF Spokesperson Major Abdul Raheem confirmed that the Chief of Defence Force Major General Moosa Ali Jaleel met yesterday with both the Speaker “and some MPs.”
“They discussed the issues occurring inside parliament and said it was the legal duty of the MNDF to protect the parliament and other state institutions,” he said. “We will maintain the rules and laws in whatever action we take and we will not hesitate to take any action required to take to fulfill our legal duty.”
At the beginning of today’s sitting, DQP MP Riyaz Rasheed raised a point of order demanding to know which law authorised MNDF officers to enter the chamber and “drag MPs away.”
Addressing the concerns, Deputy Speaker Nazim replied that he was aware of the meeting between the Speaker and the Chief of Defence Forces.
“MNDF [officers] will not enter the Majlis chamber without the permission of the Speaker,” he said. “The Speaker does not intend to give permission and I will not do it either.”