Parliament Speaker announces majority and minority leaders

Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Maseeh has today (June 9) announced the majority and minority leaders for the current term.

Parliament’s majority leader is the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan, member for Villimalé constituency, while the minority leader is opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, member for Hinnavaru constituency.

PPM possesses 38 parliamentary seats, while the MDP currently has 25 seats.

Additionally, the Jumhooree Party – which recently left the ruling coalition – has 15 seats, while government coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance holds 5 seats.

The religious conservative Adhaalath Party currently holds one parliamentary seat, while one independent member – for Madaveli constituency – also sits in parliament.


Progressive coalition will dissolve if Gasim runs for speaker, says PPM

Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has announced that the ruling coalition will dissolve if the coalition partner Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim stands as speaker of the newly elected People’s Majlis.

The 18th People’s Majlis is due to be sworn in tomorrow, with the new speaker to be elected by secret ballot.

Gasim has responded by saying he will not retract his name, claiming the PPM was the first to breach the coalition agreement made during November’s presidential elections.

“Truth is, they have been trying to kick us out of the coalition for a long time now,” Gasim told the press today.

After coming third in the presidential polls, Gasim’s support was crucial in securing a win for the PPM against the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Gasim’s support was given in exchange for a 35 percent stake in executive political postings and a promise to work together during subsequent local government and parliament elections.

The Progressive Coalition secured a combined total of 53 out of 85 seats in parliamentary polls, no party won enough seats to reach the 43-vote simple majority alone.

Who broke the agreement?

PPM deputy leader, and minister of tourism, Ahmed Adeeb further warned last night that he would request President Abdulla Yameen replace JP political appointees should Gasim stand as speaker.

“From [Gasim’s] actions, we are seeing him working together with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to acquire the speaker’s seat,” said Adeeb.

“As MDP worked to present obstacles to this government when they held parliamentary majority, we cannot accept a coalition member working alongside them,” he continued.

PPM leader and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom had also written to Gasim, describing a recent meeting with MDP leader and former President Mohamed Nasheed as being against the “coalition’s spirit”.

During the meeting at Gasim’s residence last month, Nasheed had signalled the MDP’s support for Gasim – a stance reiterated today.

Gasim subsequently called a press conference today during which he argued it was not his party but the PPM, which had breached the agreement.

Holding up the agreement, he said coalition partners had agreed to hold discussions to resolve any issues not included therein.

The PPM had unilaterally informed him they would nominate separate candidates for the position, said the JP leader, who also complained of not receiving the party’s quota of appointments.

“The agreement says 35 per cent of political appointments will be given to us, which would amount to between 90 to 40 posts when we consider the total number of political appointments in this government. However, today we have only about 29 slots,” Gasim explained.

Gasim stated that he had received the support of President Yameen, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, and Adeeb prior to publicly announcing his candidacy.

“Nazim and Adeeb said it’s a good decision and wished me luck. No one asked me to not put my name forward or mentioned they wanted to further discuss the matter. Then without any notice, they make this announcement about breaking up the coalition,” Gasim said.

“I will always work for the rights of the people. We do not want another administration where the president can unilaterally call the shots on all matters. We need a democratic system,” he continued.

JP MP Ahmed Sameer added that the coalition agreement signed by Gayoom and Deputy Leader Abdu Raheem explicitly stated that the agreement will be in effect until November 11, 2018.

“So how can they just break up the coalition like this? What more is there to say about people like them? Where is the justice in these actions of theirs?” Sameer asked.

“Parliament must be led by PPM”

Speaking to local media yesterday, President Yameen said he believed Gasim must withdraw from the speakership claiming it to be the “general norm around the world” for the majority party to hold the speaker’s seat.

Contrary to the JP’s claims, he claimed that the PPM had sent Gasim a number of letters and held discussions on the matter.

The PPM yesterday announced that it planned to nominate the party’s parliamentarians Abdulla Maseeh and Abdu Raheem Abdulla for speaker and deputy speaker, respectively.

Current Deputy Speaker of parliament Ahmed Nazim – affiliated with the PPM – has also expressed interest in the position, though Yameen has expressed confidence that Nazim would not run against the party’s wishes.

Meanwhile, the deputy leader of second coalition partner the Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA), Ahmed Amir, has also announced he will be running for speaker.

Saying that the PPM announced its nominees after he had already decided to contest,  Amir said he had no intention of withdrawing his name, though the PPM has promised action against any competing coalition candidates.

The MDP announced last Friday (May 23) that the party’s 25 MPs-elect would back a candidate who support’s the parties policies, including judicial reform, empowerment of local councils as well as the introduction of a progressive income tax and a minimum wage.

Following the signing of three out of the five independent candidates elected to the 18th parliament, the PPM currently has 37 seats, followed by the opposition MDP with 25 seats, the JP with 15 seats, the MDA with five seats, and the religious conservative Adhaalath Party with one seat.


State prosecutors halt all criminal trials

State prosecutors at the Prosecutor General’s Office have refused to attend hearings in the absence of a Prosecutor General (PG) and a deputy PG.

The office’s leadership is currently vacant with former PG Ahmed Muizz’s resignation in November 2013 and deputy PG Hussein Shameem’s resignation yesterday. Shameem said he was unable to carry out his duties due to the Criminal Court’s “obstruction” of criminal justice.

Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed told local media today the court will continue with criminal trials even in the absence of a PG or Deputy PG unless the Supreme Court indicates otherwise. Mohamed had previously halted all criminal proceedings for three weeks in January citing state failure to appoint a PG within the 30 days,

In response, PG office Spokesperson and lawyer Hussain Nashid told Minivan News state prosecutors were now in a “legal void,” and could not attend court.

“We have sent a letter to all courts where cases were scheduled, informing them we refuse to attend court, due to the legal void we are currently facing in the absence of a PG or a Deputy PG to lead us. We have not yet decided what action we will take in the future, but the general consensus is to wait till a relevant authority decides on the matter,” he said.

Shameem’s resignation and the state prosecutors’ refusal to attend court brings the criminal justice system to a halt.

Extraordinary session

Shameem has called on President Abdulla Yameen to submit a new PG nominee and the 17th People’s Majlis – currently in recess and rapidly nearing the end of its five year term – to approve a candidate immediately. The newly elected 18th People’s Majlis is to take the oath of office in late May.

Chair of the Independent Institutions Oversight Committee Ahmed Sameer has called on the current Majlis to find “a permanent solution” rather than wait on a Supreme Court ruling.

“The solution is to hold another meeting before May 28 and select a PG. I call on the relevant bodies to do so,” he told local media.

But Speaker Abdulla Shahid told Minivan News the Majlis cannot approve a new PG unless Yameen submits a new nominee. The president’s first nominee – his nephew Maumoon Hameed – narrowly failed to garner enough votes in March.

“How can the parliament sit to decide on the matter when there aren’t any submitted nominees?” he said.

President Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali was not responding to calls at the time of press.

Shahid also added that he is not authorized to call an extraordinary session unless the President declares a state of emergency or one-third of the MPs request an extraordinary session.

“If a minimum of 26 members sign a motion asking for a special meeting to be held to decide on a matter in the parliament agenda, then it can be done. The government coalition has over 26 parliament members, so they will be able to do this if they so wish,” he said.

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan said the governing coalition has not held any discussion on the matter as many MPs belonging to the coalition government are out of capital city Malé.

“This matter had not risen back when the last meeting of the parliament was held. At the time, there was no indication that the Deputy PG would resign. So we haven’t really discussed the matter yet. I believe that we might be having an internal meeting relevant to the matter tonight,” he said.

Obstruction of justice

In his resignation statement yesterday, Shameem highlighted the Criminal Court’s failure to prosecute foreigners involved in drug trafficking, delays in issuing rulings on drug related offenses and “unreasonable obstacles” in filing cases at the court.

The Criminal Court and PG office have been at loggerheads since January, with the court agreeing to proceed with criminal cases only after two Supreme Court orders in three weeks. However, the court formulated new procedures to delay and impede the PG office’s ability to submit criminal cases, Shameem has previously said.

“These issues obstruct the proper functioning of the criminal justice system. I am deeply saddened to note the extreme delay on the part of those who have the power to address these issues,” he said yesterday.

MP Sameer contended Shameem cannot resign in the absence of a PG. It is the PG who appoints a deputy and hence the deputy cannot resign if there is no PG, he argued.

“Surely, the President cannot accept this resignation. That is something that can be done by a Prosecutor General. There is no one at the moment to accept the Deputy PG’s resignation. However, if Shameem is not getting the necessary cooperation and is unable to fulfill his duties, then he can stop serving for the time being. I do not see any other possibilities in this matter,” Sameer told Haveeru.

But lawyers have told Minivan News no person can be “forced” to remain in any particular position.

“The Deputy PG can most definitely resign. A person cannot be forced to stay in a position based on the possible outcomes of a resignation. If the PG can resign, then the Deputy PG can resign too. If the law does not define a course of action in the instance that the country is lacking a PG and a Deputy, it is the lawmakers who must come up with a solution. It cannot be reason to force someone to remain in a position against his will,” lawyer Mohamed Shafaz Wajeeh said.

Another lawyer – on condition of anonymity – echoed Wajeeh’s views, adding “in the instance that we did not have a PG, it was the Deputy who was answerable to the oversight committee in parliament. Under that same logic, he can also resign if the PG can. The law must be interpreted in such a way that it does not allow for anyone to be in any position under force.”


JSC acted unconstitutionally in assigning panel of judges to Hulhumale’ Court: Speaker Shahid

Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid, who is also a member of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), appeared before Parliament’s Independent Commissions Oversight Committee on Tuesday to answer questions regarding the the appointment of a panel of three magistrates to the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court.

This panel of three judges were appointed to preside over the case against former President Mohamed Nasheed for his detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, and cases against other officials from the former government involved in the detention.

Prior to Shahid’s appearance, JSC Vice Chair Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Didi and member appointed to JSC from among the public, Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman, have attended the committee over the same matter.

Meanwhile, JSC Chair Supreme Court Judge Adam Mohamed has refused to attend the committee on the grounds the matter is related to an ‘ongoing case.’

JSC acted outside its mandate: Speaker Shahid

Speaking at the committee meeting, Shahid stated that he believed that the judicial watchdog had acted unconstitutionally in assigning magistrates to a particular case.

“In deciding upon the bench, the JSC did follow its rules of procedures. As in, it was voted upon in an official meeting and six of the seven members in attendance voted on the matter. The seventh member being the Chair, does not vote in matters,” Shahid explained.

“However, whether it is within the commission’s mandate to appoint a panel of judges in this manner is an issue which raised doubt in the minds of more than one of my fellow members.”

Shahid then referred to the existing legal framework, quoting articles to back his statement that he did not believe the matter was within the responsibilities of the commission.

He quoted Article 21 of the JSC Act, Articles 48 and 49 of the Judges Act, and from the Judicature Act.

Article 21 of the JSC Act outlines in detail the responsibilities and powers of the commission.

Article 48 of the Judges Act states “A judge can be temporarily appointed to another court in the instance that the court is unable to sufficiently complete assigned work, or if the court has difficulties providing services, or if the judges serving in the court has been suspended from their duties. or if other circumstances which may cause a delay in the completion of work assigned to the court occur.”

Article 49 of the same act states “It is the Judicial Services Commission, with the counsel of the Judicial Council, which will come to a decision on the transfer of judges to oversee cases in other courts.”

Article 55 (a) of the Judicature Act states “In addition to the responsibilities assigned by other laws, the responsibilities of the Senior Judge of a superior court are the following: (a) Determine the Judges who would adjudicate the cases of that court.”

“None of these articles say anything about assigning cases concerning a particular individual to a specific set of people. The JSC is mandated with the appointment and transfer of judges. But it does not say anywhere here that the JSC holds the powers to assign cases to specific judges,” Shahid said.

“Hence, I do not believe that the appointment of a panel of magistrates to the Hulhumale’ Magistrate falls into the mandate of the JSC,” Shahid stated.

“The reason why I need to state this here is because the constitution explicitly guarantees the right to a fair trial to all individuals. When things proceed as they are going now, this is being compromised. So I must speak out,” he said.

Responding to a question posed by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Abdulla, Shahid said he did not “feel it was the right course of action” to remove then Senior Magistrate of Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court Moosa Naseem from the case after he had assumed responsibility for the case.

“Moosa Naseem, who was then in charge of the Hulhumale’ Court sent in his recommendations for magistrates who are to sit on Nasheed’s case to the JSC for comments. This list included his own name. The JSC then replaced all three of these magistrates. Do you feel this was done in the rightful manner?” Abdulla asked.

“I do not think removing Naseem was the right course of action. There should be a good reason to remove a judge from a case from which the judge has not recused himself. I think that is a good issue for this committee to further investigate,” Shahid responded.

Asked about the formation of the Hulhumale’ Court, Shahid answered that his summons letter had detailed that he would be asked specifically about the assignment of the panel, adding that therefore he felt it “unnecessary to even extend [his] thoughts” to any other topic.

Political competitiveness

“As Speaker of Parliament, you have been working with us 77 MPs for years now, in a very politically volatile environment. You are also one of the most senior council members of Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), and we belong to your political opponent, MDP,” MDP MP Ali Waheed addressed Shahid.

“In these past few years, there have been times when we have acted very harshly against you. We even initiated a no confidence motion against you. Now to come back, you have just told us that you don’t think the assignment of the Hulhumale’ Court panel is legitimate. This is the panel which will be ruling on the presidential candidate of your political opposition,” Ali Waheed continued.

“My question to you is, under these circumstances, can you tell us in what light you see the events that are unfolding? Do you think the trial that is being conducted by this panel we speak of can be free and impartial?”

Shahid promptly responded that he did not entertain any political thoughts while serving as a JSC member.

“You have pointed out that I come from a specific political party, and you are right. Nevertheless, I was voted in as Parliament Speaker through votes cast by MPs from various parties. When I sit as speaker, I do not see any political action, and instead work as per the regulations and the constitution,” Shahid answered.

“I sit in the JSC because of my role as speaker, and hence as a rule, I have no right to harbour any political thoughts or mindset in the work I do there, nor will I do so,”’he said.

“In casting my vote in JSC or advocating for different matters in the commission’s meetings, the only focus I keep is on doing what is constitutionally mandated. Hence, even at a politically turbulent time, on a very politically contentious matter, I am sitting here in this chair and telling you that in my personal capacity I believe the JSC acted wrongfully in having appointed that panel,” Shahid repeated.

Chair of the Independent Commissions Oversight Committee Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed did not attend Tuesday’s committee meeting. He was also not present at the last two meetings of the committee where JSC members Abdulla Didi and Sheikh Rahman were summoned.


Parliament Speaker Abdulla Shahid on official visit to Angola

Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid has commenced a three day visit Angola today in order to reinforce inter-parliamentary cooperative ties between the two countries, an African news service has said.

During his stay in the country, Shahid will meet with his Angolan counterpart, Fernando Da Piedade Dias dos Santos as well as heads of parliamentary groups of the national assembly.

According to a press note from the Angolan national assembly, the agenda includes official talks between the parliamentary delegations of Angola and Maldives, and an official dinner offered by the Angolan speaker of the national assembly.

The press note reads that Shahid will also visit the new city of Kilamba in Luanda, in order to learn about the national housing boosting programme.

Shahid is to return on January 9, according to the African news source.