PPM MPs slam Commonwealth ‘bullying’ as opposition MPs warn against isolation

Pro-government MPs have accused influential countries in the Commonwealth of “bullying” the Maldives and interfering in domestic affairs in a parliamentary debate on quitting the inter-governmental body. Opposition MPs warned that the current administration’s foreign policy would isolate the country.

President Abdulla Yameen had sought parliament’s counsel on the country’s membership of the Commonwealth following lobbying efforts for an assessment of Maldives’ alleged violations of the organisation’s principles with the imprisonment of opposition politicians, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.

In a letter to the speaker – read out at today’s sitting – the president noted that the cabinet had suggested a review of the Maldives’ role in the Commonwealth and requested the parliament’s advice on the issue.

In the ensuing debate, ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan said some Commonwealth members are trying to place restrictions on the Maldives and harm the country’s economy and tourism industry through the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group’s (CMAG).

The Maldives’ treatment in the Commonwealth was akin to “the weakest or quietest kid in the class being bullied by the biggest group or kid,” he said.

If the government decides to leave the Commonwealth, the PPM parliamentary group leader said he would fully back the decision.

PPM MP Riyaz Rasheed meanwhile called on MPs to propose immediately leaving the Commonwealth to the government.

The Commonwealth was demanding opposition leader Nasheed’s release from prison, Riyaz claimed, which was contrary to separation of powers and the constitution adopted in 2008 with the organisation’s assistance.

“[The Commonwealth] does not want Islam in the Maldives. They want to spread false religions here, they want to build temples here, they want to elect a leader here who can carry out their agenda,” he said.

The Maldives should not be “afraid” of the Commonwealth as unlike India and China the organisation has not provided significant aid to the country, he continued.

Earlier this month, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon said the Maldives “will seriously consider its membership at the Commonwealth” if it is placed on the agenda of the Commonwealth’s human rights and democracy arm for a second time in four years.

The Maldives was placed on the CMAG’s agenda in 2012 “on an unfair basis, based on false allegations, and the country’s economy and democratic governance suffered significantly as a result,” Dunya said.

In mid-June, Canada had called on CMAG to “urgently put the deteriorating situation in the Maldives on its formal agenda,” prompting Dunya to accuse the Canadian government of hypocrisy. “Canada should address the cultural genocide it is alleged to have committed against native Canadians before trying to teach other nations about values of democratic principles and human rights,” she said.

Echoing Dunya’s criticism during today’s debate, ruling party MPs said the countries pushing for action against Maldives has committed serious crimes, such as “electoral fraud” and “cultural genocide.”

Others also called on the Commonwealth to apologise to the Maldives for taking action against in the wake of former President Nasheed’s controversial resignation in February 2012.

The Maldives was placed on the CMAG agenda from March 2012 to March 2013 after Nasheed resigned amidst a police and military mutiny. He later alleged he had been ousted in a coup d’état, but a Commonwealth-backed inquiry found the transfer of power to be constitutional.

Main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mariya Ahmed Didi advised the government to accept criticism from international partners “instead of saying we’re an independent country and becoming isolated from the world.”

The Maldives is dependent on imports and tourists and could not survive with an isolationist stance in an inter-connected world, she said.

MDP MP Eva Abdulla said Maldivian teachers, students, doctors, and athletes have received numerous opportunities through the Commonwealth in addition to assistance from member states.

The Commonwealth offers a platform for the Maldives to have its voice heard in the international arena, she said.

The Maldives could not achieve development and progress in isolation from the rest of the world, she continued, and foreign policy should be shaped accordingly.

“Temporary benefits or quarrels” should not dictate foreign policy or bilateral relations, Eva said.

The debate will continue tomorrow.

The CMAG in a recent meeting in London decided not to review the Maldives.

The president is authorized to determine. conduct and oversee the Maldives’ foreign policy according to the constitution.


PPM conditions development on by-election win

The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has conditioned the development of five islands in the Meemu Atoll Dhiggaru constituency on a by-election win for the party on June 6.

Speaking at a rally on Tuesday night, PPM MP and parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan promised to include funds in the 2016 state budget for Dhiggaru constituency development if the PPM candidate Faris Maumoon is elected with more than 70 percent of the vote.

“God willing, if you elect Faris with over 70 percent of the votes we will include the extra money needed to develop projects of Dhihgaru constituency,” the Vilimalé MP said.

Faris is the son of PPM leader and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and the nephew of president Abdulla Yameen.

The by-election was triggered by the jailing of former MP Ahmed Nazim, also a PPM member. He was convicted of defrauding the former atolls ministry and imprisoned for life.

The Dhiggaru constituency is a PPM stronghold.

Nihan said the people of Maduvvari, Dhiggaru, Muli, Veyvah and Raimandhoo are casting votes for their future development.

“On June 6 the people of Dhiggaru constituency is not deciding the future of PPM. They are not deciding to give a parliament seat to Faris. The people of Dhihgaru constituency are deciding the development of their constituency.

“I say to the grandmothers and grandfathers, our candidate Faris is the candidate number four. Probably it will be the last in the list. Tick the box only after careful consideration. Then, we will continue the development efforts of the constituency with Faris. PPM parliamentary group promises it.”

Some 2,555 people are eligible to vote in the by-election.

However, Nihan also said the government will not discriminate against constituencies which elected members of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“We cannot discriminate against a certain group of people just because they have members of the MDP. The president wants development for all areas of Maldives without discrimination,” he said.

The PPM also announced MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla will gift air conditioning systems for the Dhiggaru mosques.

“Abduhraheem told me he had decided to gift eight air-condition system to the mosque by Ramadan. By coincidence this falls in to the period of Faris’s campaigning. But that’s totally different,” Nihan said.

Ruling coalition partner the Maldives Development Alliance has also decided to gift eight air conditioning systems to Madduvari Island, he announced.

“Isn’t this the joy of the vote?”

The by-election is expected to be hotly contested amid heightened political tension following the jailing of former president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim as well as the alleged unfair targeting of JP leader Gasim Ibrahim’s business interests.

The PPM has previously been accused of bribery over the delivery of an x-ray machine to Muli last week.

The government has also signed an agreement with state-owned Maldives Transport and Construction Company to build a harbour in Dhiggaru.

The ruling party was previously also accused of vote-buying after a high-profile handout of air-conditioners to a school in Raa Atoll Alifushi, shortly before an island council by-election.

The PPM and MDA hold a majority of the 85 member house with 48 MPs. The MDP now has 21 MPs and the opposition Jumhooree Party has 10 seats.


MDP MP appeals for Indian pressure to release Nasheed

An opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP has appealed for Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s help to secure the release of imprisoned ex-president Mohamed Nasheed.

The disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan, death threats against journalists and human rights defenders, and an arson attack against opposition-aligned Raajje TV are “symptomatic of the Maldives’ slide into tyranny,” MP Eva Abdulla wrote in a letter to the Indian prime minister.

“I hope you can use your good offices to pressure the Maldivian government to release President Nasheed and other political prisoners, return to rule of law, uphold the constitution and protect the basic human rights of all Maldivians,” reads the letter sent on April 22.

Eva’s appeal was echoed by Amnesty International last week, which warned that the human rights situation in the Maldives is “rapidly deteriorating” with the government cracking down on peaceful protests, stifling dissent, and imprisoning opposition politicians.

Raghu Menon, Amnesty International India’s advocacy coordinator, said India as a regional power “has a responsibility to work towards a human rights-friendly environment in the Maldives.”

The ruling coalition has previously condemned calls for Indian intervention as “irresponsible”.

“Urging India to intervene in a sovereign nation’s internal affairs is a betrayal of our constitution. Its results will be bitter, especially on the Maldivian public,” majority leader of parliament Ahmed Nihan told Minivan News after Nasheed urged India before his arrest in February to ensure the security of opposition politicians.

Foreign minister Dunya Maumoon has also expressed confidence that India “will not intervene in domestic politics of Maldives.”

Following Nasheed’s arrest and prosecution on controversial terrorism charges, Modi dropped the Maldives from a tour of Indian Ocean neighbours in early March.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison last month on terrorism charges related to the military’s detention of a judge during his tenure. The 19-day trial was widely criticised by foreign governments, the UN, and Amnesty International for its apparent lack of due process.

“Slide towards dictatorship”

Rilwan’s disappearance on August 8 in a suspected abduction “highlights the nature of today’s Maldives, where the rule by fear has taken the place of rule of law,” Eva wrote.

The government’s commitment to finding Rilwan was “questionable” as president Abdulla Yameen refused to comment on the disappearance.

“Of the many human rights abuses that have taken place in the Maldives, Rilwan’s has resonated across the country for its encapsulation of every fear within our society,” she said, adding that the disappearance came after “months of intimidation against journalists, civil society, and independent institutions.”

The public was still awaiting answers, she continued, as police have not “credibly” investigated the murder of former MP Afrasheem Ali, the attempted murder of Raajje TV journalist Ibrahim Waheed ‘Asward’, and the torching of Raajje TV’s studios.

Eva accused the current administration of using its parliamentary majority to “crush dissent, eliminate political opposition and make laws to facilitate executive and judicial tyranny” and offering immunity from prosecution to violent gangs that operate with impunity.

“An impunity and patronage the government makes no attempt to hide,” she added.

She further contended that “confessions through torture, show trials, and state sponsored violence” of the autocratic past have returned under president Yameen.

However, Eva said “Maldivians refuse to be cowed by president Yameen’s authoritarian tactics” and have taken to the streets to protest against “the slide towards dictatorship.”

“In tightening its grip, the regime appears to be losing it,” she suggested.

“More political parties, politicians and activists are leaving the regime and joining the opposition coalition.”

The Indian government has “the power to make a difference in the Maldives” and had been crucial to the success of the democratic reform movement that culminated in the adoption of a rights-based constitution and multi-party elections in 2008.

“The movement cannot end yet, we have come too far to leave this conflict to our children,” she wrote.

“So we ask India’s help again. I believe it is in India’s interest to see the Maldives return to the democratic path. We cannot afford another failed Muslim democracy, nor a front of instability in the Indian Ocean.”


Horns and megaphones banned in parliament chamber

The People’s Majlis today banned the use of horns, sirens and megaphones in the parliament chamber following weeks of protests by opposition MPs.

MPs of the Maldivian Democratic Party and Jumhooree Party have been protesting since March 2 over the arrest and imprisonment of former president Mohamed Nasheed on terrorism charges.

Opposition MPs continued protests with horns and megaphones today, but Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed called for a vote on the changes proposed to the parliamentary rules despite the disorder in the chamber.

The changes were proposed by the speaker and approved with 43 votes in favour at today’s sitting.

The debate on the bill was once again inaudible to the viewing gallery and the parliament secretariat ceased providing a live feed of the sittings to television stations this morning.

“Work on bringing an end to the MDP’s horns by amending article 51 of the parliament rules is on the agenda today,” tweeted majority leader Ahmed Nihan before today’s sitting.

Nihan was not responding to calls at the time of publication.

MDP spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy told Minivan News today that opposition MPs will continue the protests.

With daily anti-government demonstrations and heightened political tension, the state of the nation shall be reflected in the People’s Majlis, he said.

“While democratic principles are destroyed and political leaders are jailed, the Majlis is a place where such issues can be resolved,” he said.

The MPs are calling for a resolution to the political crisis, but the “current majority party does not want to listen,” he added.

Imthiyaz also questioned the need for the changes as the rules allow the speaker to order the sergeant-at-arms to expel MPs who disrupt sittings.

He contended that laws were passed in recent weeks in violation of parliamentary rules as voting took place with disorder in the chamber.

Constituencies represented by opposition MPs did not have a say either, he added.

Previous speakers resolved disputes through dialogue with political parties, but the current speaker “is too dictatorial and doesn’t even want to talk to the minority,” he said.

Maseeh is conducting sittings in violation of the rules while insisting that there was order in the chamber despite the protests, Imthiyaz said.

But neither the speaker nor MPs were able to hear debates, he noted.

Last week, a three-month delay for the implementation of the new penal code was approved with a show of hands amid protests by MDP MPs.

Rules of procedure

The new provisions state that cases of MPs who use horns or megaphones and approach the speaker’s desk will be investigated by the ethics committee.

The committee can cut 55 percent of an MPs’ monthly committee allowance and suspend participation in an official parliament trip for six months.

Imthiyaz said the proposed punishment was “ridiculous” as it amounted to undoing or erasing committee attendance.

MPs receive a monthly allowance of MVR20,000 for attending more than 50 percent of committee meeting.

The purpose of today’s changes to impose pay cuts on opposition MPs as the ruling coalition lacked two-third majority required by the constitution for non-payment of salaries and allowances, he said.

He also noted that the MDP parliamentary group leader sent a letter to Maseeh expressing concern with sittings taking place in violation of the rules.

However, in a meeting last week, Maseeh insisted that he was following the rules.

Imthiyaz also objected to the speaker refusing to allow MDP MPs to speak during debates and advocate on behalf of their constituents.

At a previous sitting, deputy speaker ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik refused to allow MDP MP Mariya Ahmed Didi to speak.

Imthiyaz said Mariya was seated, but the deputy speaker said the MDP MP will not be allowed to speak while her fellow MPs were protesting.


Government promises jobs to Maldivians in new Thilafushi port

The government has assured jobs to Maldivians in a new commercial port to be built by a Emirati company on Thilafushi island.

MP of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives, Ahmed Nihan, said the chairman of Dubai Ports (DP) World has said Maldivians would be involved in the management of the port.

The Dubai-based marine terminal operator signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Maldivian government last month to develop a port at Thilafushi as a free trade zone.

“He said Maldivians would also be sent to countries like Dubai, Hong Kong, and Korea for training. This would be a great encouragement for Maldivians to develop our human resources,” the majority leader of parliament was quoted as saying.

The relocation and development of the central port would not harm the domestic economy, he added.

DP World Chairman Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem met MPs of the Progressive Party of Maldives yesterday during an unofficial visit to the Maldives.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb and Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed also participated in the meeting. The former is the chairman of the government’s Special Economic Zones’ investment board.

According to the local daily, Sulayem also expressed interest in investing in other ‘mega projects’ announced by the government such as the ‘I-Havan’ transhipment port in the northernmost atoll.

“The Maldives has been growing rapidly, driven largely by its tourism development. We are working with them to help diversify the economy through building infrastructure, logistics and transport links needed to make this happen,” Sulayem said in a press statement last month.

“The UAE has much experience and expertise in this area thanks to the vision of our leaders to explore new growth strategies. We are proud to share our expertise with the Maldives as they develop their capabilities in the global supply chain industry.”

Adeeb told local media last month that DP World has agreed to complete the project within two years of signing a joint venture agreement with the Maldives Ports Limited.

A timeline for the project has been agreed upon and the MoU was signed with a view to signing the joint venture agreement in a month, he said.


PPM signals support for reappointing Supreme Court bench

The Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) signalled the majority party’s support today for reducing the number of Supreme Court Justices from seven to five as proposed by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ibrahim Shareef.

During preliminary debate on amendments (Dhivehi) submitted by Shareef to the Judicature Act, Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan said he believed all ruling party MPs would support the proposal, but a decision would be made following discussions at a parliamentary group meeting.

“The work of reforming the judiciary is not something that the PPM has not participated in or stayed away from,” said the PPM parliamentary group leader.

All pro-government MPs subsequently voted in favour of the bill, which was accepted for consideration with 43 votes in favour and 22 against.

Last week, the MDP’s national executive council decided not to support Shareef’s bill with former President Mohamed Nasheed warning that it would allow President Abdulla Yameen to appoint a bench biased in favour of PPM.

The opposition leader told the press that changing the number of judges on the Supreme Court bench would not amount to judicial reform.

Presenting the amendment bill at today’s sitting, Shareef said he believed the number of judges on the apex court was too high for a country the size of the Maldives.

The Supreme Court should maintain “legal consistency” or “uniformity” in its rulings, the MP for Addu Maradhoo said.

Confidence in the judiciary from both the Maldivian public as well as local businesses and foreign investors was essential to ensure development, he added.

Shareef also proposed establishing branches of the High Court in the north and south of the country.

MDP divisions

MDP MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik – who has announced his intention to contest in the MDP’s 2018 presidential primary – appealed for pro-government MPs to cooperate with the party’s efforts to reform the judiciary.

The PPM together with coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance has a majority of 48 seats in the 85-member house.

The current Supreme Court bench was appointed as a “shameful” political “bargain” between the MDP and then-opposition parties in 2010, Moosa said, noting that the MDP did not have a majority in the 16th People’s Majlis.

Moosa criticised Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain for swearing in former President Dr Mohamed Waheed following a “coup d’etat” on February 7, 2012 and for remaining silent while MDP MPs were unfairly stripped of their parliament seats.

Nihan meanwhile praised both Shareef and Moosa and suggested that the number of judges on the apex court was worth reconsidering.

Shareef was a “rare” politician, Nihan said, and defended Moosa for forming a ‘people’s court’ during street protests, which was part of the former MDP chairperson’s advocacy for judicial reform.

“If MDP members think about it, if there is one member in MDP’s front rank who wishes well for the nation, I don’t doubt at all that it is the honourable Hulhuhenveiru MP Moosa Manik,” Nihan said.

Nihan suggested that MDP MPs voting against the amendments would be against the party’s principles.

However, Minority Leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said he respected Shareef and Moosa, but the MDP’s national executive council has decided not to support the bill.

“So that is the MDP’s stand about this amendment,” he said.

Moosa had reportedly walked out of the national council meeting and pledged to stand behind Shareef.


Jumhooree Party Leader Gasim Ibrahim meanwhile contended that the proposed revisions were unconstitutional as Supreme Court Justices were appointed for life.

The Constitution specifies the process for removing judges, Gasim continued, and it could not be done by amending laws.

Gasim also criticised Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed for tabling the bill in the agenda, claiming that a controversial amendment submitted by the PPM requiring the reappointment of the auditor general was also tabled in spite of parliament’s counsel general advising that it could not be put to a vote.

While the MDP had also insisted that the amendments were unconstitutional, MPs Shareef and Moosa were among several MDP MPs who voted in favour of appointing former PPM parliamentary candidate Hassan Ziyath as the new auditor general.

Meanwhile, in June this year, the Judicial Service Commission cleared Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed of misconduct after sex tapes of the judge with three prostitutes in a hotel room in Sri Lanka emerged last year.

The room and date stamp in the sex tapes appeared to be the same as that in previously leaked footage of Hameed meeting local businessman Mohamed Saeed, the director of ‘Golden Lane’.

In that video, Hameed declared that he was one of then-PPM presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen’s “back-ups”, and that his stand was “to do things the way Yameen wants”.

Images and symbols depicting scenes from the sex-tape formed a prominent part of the MDP’s protests against the apex court’s repeated interference in last year’s presidential election.

In a controversial 4-3 ruling – with Justice Hameed in the majority – the Supreme Court annulled the results of the first round of the polls conducted on September 7 despite unanimous positive assessment of the polling by more than a thousand domestic and international election observers.

Related to this story

MDP rejects MP Shareef’s proposal to reduce Supreme Court bench

Constitutional disaster averted as Parliament approves Supreme Court

A justice system in crisis: UN Special Rapporteur’s report


MP Nihan claims “no gangs in Maldives” remarks misinterpreted

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Parliamentary Group Leader MP Ahmed Nihan has denied claiming there were no gangs in the Maldives.

Local media had reported Nihan as saying at a PPM gathering on Sunday night (November 16) that there were no gangs in the Maldives and that the government would not allow youth congregating in street corners to be labelled criminal gangs.

“Youth in these small congregations with young blood will have the courage to defend each other. Small things like that will roll over…It’s true, I know while saying this that some incidents have gone beyond bounds,” he was quoted as saying.

Speaking in parliament yesterday, the majority leader accused opposition MPs of twisting his remarks.

“I want to clearly tell the Maldivian people what I said was that every youth in a corner is not a gang member,” he said.

He went on to claim that the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and former President Mohamed Nasheed should “bear responsibility for all murders in the recent past”.


MP Nihan elected chair of budget review committee

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan has been elected chair of parliament’s budget review committee at the first meeting of the committee today.

Coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) MP Ali Mauroof was meanwhile elected deputy chair.

The 24-member budget review committee is comprised of the economic affairs committee and public accounts committee.

While Nihan – PPM parliamentary group leader and majority leader – was elected with 21 votes in favour, Mauroof was elected with 15 votes.

The committee has 13 MPs from the ruling PPM-MDA coalition, seven opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MPs, and four Jumhooree Party MPs.

At its first meeting today, the committee decided to complete its review of the record MVR24.3 billion annual state budget presented at yesterday’s sitting by Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad by December 1.

Article 96(b) of the Constitution states, “The People’s Majlis may approve or amend the budget submitted by the Minister of Finance as in its discretion it deems fit.”


MPs clash over amendments to Human Rights Commission Act

Pro-government MPs clashed with MPs of former coalition partner Jumhooree Party (JP) and opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) today over amendments proposed to the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) Act of 2006.

During debate on the government-sponsored amendments, JP MP for Dhagethi, Ilham Ahmed, objected to giving powers to the HRCM to suspend employees of state institutions for two weeks for not complying with the commission’s orders.

The proposed amendment to Article 26(b) of the HRCM Act also confers the authority to impose a fine of between MVR3,000 (US$195) and MVR25,000 (US$1,621) for non-compliance.

The JP deputy leader contended that the powers could be misused to either arbitrarily fine or “bring into disrepute” a state employee over “simple matters,” adding that HRCM members would be “under the control” of the majority party in parliament.

Some members of independent commissions have “for sale boards on them,” he alleged, and could be bribed to issue reports.

Responding to the criticism, Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan noted that the existing law empowers the HRCM to place individuals under house arrest for three months over non-compliance with orders.

Moreover, the commission has the authority to dismiss employees of state institutions for non-compliance.

Attempts to mislead the public were “regrettable” as the government’s intention was to “provide relief”, said the Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) parliamentary group leader.

The amendments (Dhivehi) were submitted on behalf of the government at today’s sitting of parliament by PPM MP Jaufar Daood.

The purpose of the legislation was to bring the HRCM law in line with the new constitution adopted in August 2008, he said.

Some provisions in the HRCM law – enacted two years before the ratification of the new constitution – conflicted with articles 189 through 198 of the constitution, which specifies the responsibilities and powers of the commission, Daood said.

During the debate, PPM MP Saud Hussain argued that the current administration inherited the task of amending laws for adherence to the new constitution as the previous parliament failed to do so during the past five years.

Opposition MPs, however, contended that the then-opposition parties used their provisional majority in parliament to obstruct the MDP government.

The amendments to the HRCM Act are among a number of bills drafted by the Attorney General’s Office to bring outdated laws in line with the new constitution.

The current administration’s the legislative agenda is comprised of  207 bills, including 98 new bills and 109 amendments to existing laws.

During today’s debate, JP MP for Kendhoo, Ali Hussain, meanwhile contended that parliament and not the executive should decide among candidates who apply for HRCM membership.

The president should not have “all the powers” to decide whom to appoint as members of the HRCM, he added.

PPM MP Ali Shah noted, however, that the Majlis had the authority to reject nominees forwarded by the president for parliamentary consent.