Speaker Shahid confirms switch to opposition MDP

Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid has today joined the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – days after resigning from the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

Following ongoing media speculation over the last week that the speaker was considering defecting to the MDP, Shahid today confirmed via his Twitter account that he had changed his political allegiance over concerns about the direction of the country’s democratic transition.

Shahid did not elaborate further when asked by Minivan News today if he believed his decision to switch parties would potentially lead to government-aligned MPs reconsidering their support for his speaker role.

“Strong and resolute”

Shahid’s former party, the DRP, today said that it did not wish to comment on the personal decision of someone who was no longer a member of the party.

DRP Deputy Leader Abdulla Mausoom told Minivan News that despite the defection of the speaker, the party would “remain solid, strong and resolute”.

Mausoom added that the government-aligned party did not presently have any intention to pursue a no-confidence motion against the speaker as a result of him switching parties.

“In the past, most of the no-confidence motions have been conducted by either the MDP or the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM),” he claimed.

Mausoom alleged that previous no-confidence motions submitted from the two parties had been undertaken as a means of seeking vengeance against the speaker or other political figures – something he claimed the DRP would not do.

“We have not initiated a no-confidence motion. We believe that no confidence should only be taken on an issue of national importance,” he said.

However, he claimed that in cases where any politician – whether a speaker or cabinet minister – was deemed to be compromising national issues, then the party “would not hesitate” to take action.

Abdulla Yameen, Parliamentary Group Leader of the government-aligned PPM – the country’s second largest political party after the MDP and minority party of parliament – did not respond to calls from Minivan News about the speaker’s switch today.

Earlier this week, PPM MP Ahmed Nihan said he had worked with Shahid for many years and personally found him to be very capable in his position as speaker.

However, he added that he was not sure how his fellow party members or other government-aligned MPs might view a decision to switch to the opposition.

“Ideological shift”

Shahid’s switch comes almost exactly one year to the day that the opposition MDP submitted an unsuccessful no confidence motion against the speaker, accusing him of making decisions relating to significant parliamentary issues without discussing them with various political parties.

However, MDP MP and spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor today said that the speaker’s switch was strongly supported by the party’s “grass roots”.

Ghafoor claimed that Shahid’s arrival to the party reflected an “idealogical shift” in the country’s political arena that would bring many more supporters to the MDP who may have previously been sceptical about doing so.

“What [Shahid] is saying, I believe, is that the country needs stability,” he added.

Ghafoor claimed that he had not been made aware of any party moving to challenge Shahid’s position as speaker as a result of his decision to switch parties so far.

He said that the MDP would itself be holding a rally tomorrow night (April 19) dubbed ‘New Strength’. Shahid is believed to be among the speakers at the rally.


Speaker Shahid’s switch to MDP now a “foregone conclusion”: PPM MP Nihan

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan has claimed Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid’s rumoured switch to the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) was now a “forgone conclusion”.

Nihan told Minivan News today he was not surprised about recent speculation linking Speaker Shahid with a switch from the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) to the opposition MDP – claiming his fellow PPM MPs had suspected his “alignment” with the MDP for at least the last twelve months.

Ongoing media speculation this week over the speaker’s political allegiance has seen high-profile politicians such as former President Mohamed Nasheed publicly discussing Shahid’s potential switch to the MDP.  The DRP meanwhile have maintained that it has not been officially informed of any switch.

A parliamentary source within the MDP on condition of anonymity today confirmed by SMS that the speaker was expected to be joining the opposition party, claiming: “yes, speaker [is] moving”.

However, this afternoon party officials were refusing to acknowledge any such switch when contacted by Minivan News.  The MDP did nonetheless maintain that it would welcome a senior politician such as Shahid into their ranks ahead of presidential elections scheduled for September this year.

Shahid, who has not officially confirmed whether he intends to either switch parties or remain with the DRP, was not responding to calls at time of press.

“Forgone conclusion”

Addressing the current uncertainty over the speaker’s affiliations, PPM MP Nihan said today that his party believed speculation over Shahid’s switch remained just a rumour.

“As far as we are concerned, on Tuesday (April 9) MP Riyaz Rasheed asked for confirmation in the Majlis from the speaker [about whether he would be switching parties]”. No official response was given,” Nihan said.

“I cannot confirm this myself, but the rumour [of a switch in parties] has been there for a long-time. We’ve been hearing a lot of news that Shahid might be leaving the DRP over political differences, but I cannot exactly say anything on that.”

Nihan said that he had worked with Shahid for many years and personally found him to be very capable in his position as speaker.  He added that he was not sure how his fellow party members or other government-aligned MPs might view a decision to switch to the opposition.

Nihan also stated that with the DRP having been “very silent” on political issues in the current climate, he believed it might be “quite reasonable” for Shahid’s career progression that he look to transfer to a different party.

Nihan claimed that the current “ground reality” in Maldivian politics ahead of upcoming presidential elections was a two-way divide between either former President Mohamed Nasheed’s MDP or former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s PPM.

Following recent campaigning for the party on Fuvahmulah, Nihan claimed that a number supporters of both his own party and the MDP had recently welcomed representatives from both parties to the island in significant numbers. He questioned whether the DRP would have similar support by comparison.


Speaking to Minivan News today, DRP Deputy Leader Ibrahim Shareef said that there had been no official word from the speaker on his political intentions at time of press.

Shareef said that ultimately, losing any high-profile politician from a political party was always a huge loss for its supporters.

“It seems it is the reality of life and politics that loyalty does not run deep,” he said. “But we will move on as a party and continue to stand by our key principles.”

Shareef added that the Maldives remained a young democracy and that the DRP would continue to look for the “best way forward” for its members whatever happens.

“It is understandable in this climate that there will be a realignment in the coming days and months within political parties,” he added.

Opposition view

Addressing the rumours of Shahid switching parties this week, former President Mohamed Nasheed was reported in local media as claiming the MDP to be the only party “fully informed” about the Maldives and its future developments – making it attractive for other politicians to join them.

“We know what the Maldives is. Maldivian Democratic Party knows the Maldives well. Maldivian Democratic Party is the political party that knows the history of the Maldives, the seas of the Maldives, the palm trees, and everything related to the Maldives,” he was quoted as saying in Sun Online.

“That’s why we hear stories about Abdullah Shahid joining us. Everyone who knows the Maldives and wants to work with the people of the Maldives towards the development of the country, will join our party.”

MDP MP and Spokesperson Ahmid Abdul Ghafoor today said that only Shahid himself could confirm if he would be joining the MDP, adding he personally did not wish to “pre-empt” any statements that might be made on the issue.

Hamid nonetheless reiterated Nasheed’s earlier claims that that the MDP was the only party that could serve to attract politicians wanting to make a difference in the country.

He said that should the parliamentary speaker decide to join the opposition party, it would represent a “major shift” in the country’s political landscape.

Switch rumours

Earlier this week, local media reported that government-aligned MPs Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed, MP Ali Azim and MP Hassan Adil were also rumoured to be preparing to join the MDP.

Speaker Shahid, Ali Azim and Nasheed are all from the DRP. The supposed reason for their defection, as reported in local media, was a clash within the party’s parliamentary group over its stand on recently scheduled no-confidence motion against Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

A source in the MDP familiar with the matter previously alleged to Minivan News that the defection of the MPs was prompted after DRP Leader MP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali brokered a “last minute deal” with the government in return for DRP not voting against the minister.

According to a 2010 report by former Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem, loans totalling MVR1 billion, taken out by Fonadhoo Tuna and luxury yachting company Sultans of the Sea, both connected to to DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, had yet to see any repayments.

Together the loans accounted for 13 per cent of the total amount loaned by the bank in 2008. Naeem commented at the time that defaults on bank loans issued to “influential political players” could jeopardise the entire financial system of the country.

DRP MPs Mohamed Nashiz and Ali Azim were summoned to court in November 2012 regarding the debts, just as parliament was voting to determine whether no-confidence motions against ministers could be taken in secret.

Those summons were in relation to a Civil Court ordering Mahandhoo Investments and Kabalifaru Investments – two companies with ties to Thasmeen – to repay millions of dollars worth of loans to the Bank of Maldives Plc Ltd (BML). The verdict was also upheld by the High Court in October 2011.

MP Azim alleged at the time that President Dr Mohamed Waheed and other senior members of the executive had approached him and offered to cancel the court summons if he agreed to vote for the secret balloting in a way they preferred.

According to one MDP source, ahead of a no-confidence motion scheduled for April 8, 2013, the DRP had “in principle agreed” to vote against the minister, but had changed their minds at the last minute.

Speaker Abdulla Shahid was “left no choice but to call off the session”.

Shahid called off the parliamentary session following point of orders taken by opposition MDP MPs over the issue of the secret ballot, which the Supreme Court had overturned despite parliament’s earlier vote in favour.

Earlier this month, Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Ahmed Nazim officially completed his switch from the government-aligned People’s Aliance (PA) party to the PPM. The PPM is also a member of President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s coalition government.

Abdulla Yameen, half brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and a founder of the PA party, is now the PPM’s candidate for this year’s presidential elections.


Parliament agrees to extend General Regulations Act in spite of Majlis suspension

Parliament briefly reconvened today despite its ongoing suspension, as both government-aligned and opposition MPs agreed on extending the General Regulations Act until April 2013.

The General Regulations Act – parent legislation for 47 regulations governing a number of government and party political functions – was due to elapse at midnight today creating fears of a potential “legal void”.  This was avoided after the act was renewed with cross party support in a brief Majlis session held following discussions between the country’s key political parties in recent days.

However, the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayythithunge Party (DRP) has said that “no party in the country” stood to gain from the continued political deadlock that saw parliament suspended indefinitely last week amidst forced cancellations.

Despite the Majlis suspension, 48 MPs out of 51 present in the chamber voted in favour of extending the regulations contained in the General Regulations Act during this morning’s session.  The session was concluded with a vote 15 minutes after commencing.

Both Parliamentary Speaker Adbulla Shahid and his deputy, Ahmed Nazim, were not responding to calls by Minivan News at the time of press following today’s vote.

General regulations

The General Regulations Act was passed prior to the adoption of the new constitution on August 7, 2008 as a parent legislation for over 80 regulations without a statutory basis, or were not formulated under an Act of parliament. These included regulations for political parties, freedom of assembly, criminal justice procedures, companies and finance leasing transactions, insurance, jails and parole, freedom of information and building codes.

Article 271 of the constitution states, “Regulations derive their authority from laws passed by the People’s Majlis pursuant to which they are enacted, and are enforceable pursuant to such lawful authority. Any regulations requiring compliance by citizens must only be enacted pursuant to authority granted by a law enacted by the People’s Majlis.”

The parent act prolonged the lifespan of the regulations for a one year period until new legislation, such as a Criminal Procedures Act, Evidence Act, Freedom of Information Act and Political Parties Act, could be enacted.

The act provided for further extensions based on recommendations by parliament’s Rules Committee. The last extension was approved in December 2011.

Addressing today’s vote, DRP Deputy Leader Ibrahim Shareef said that the parent act has been renewed every year since the new constitution came into affect to ensure government was able to function correctly – with parliament failing to have to passed certain key legislative requirements.

Despite the approval, Sharref claimed that “any political party” seeking to stall the Majlis from functioning had nothing to gain beyond adding to current public disillusion with the current democratic process in the nation.

“It is not for the good of the nation for any one political party to stall parliament. The parliament must work efficiently, as it is the only place where we as politicians can debate,” he said. “I believe that parliament must find a solution quickly [to the current Majlis deadlock] as there is much disillusion among the public who had believed democracy was designed to solve problems.”

Shareef contended that in the current environment, “many people” in the country appeared to be questioning the direction of democracy in the Maldives.

“I am not sure whether people may have been expecting too much? I wouldn’t like to say. But right now what has democracy brought us? The nation is polarised as it never has been before, where even some families are not speaking due to political divides,” he said.

“Something somewhere appears to have gone terribly wrong with democracy. It is not enhancing welfare or development here.”

When questioned as to the possible solutions to apparent public apathy regarding parliament’s work, Shareef claimed it was the duty of all parties to return to negotiating through the Majlis to try and settle political differences without hindering legislative process.

“All the main parties need to understand that the country is going down the drain right now,” he said. “No one party to stands to gain in the present environment and they need to help find a solution and stop inciting violence, by putting forward an agenda.”

While not naming a specific party, Shareef’s calls to stop “inciting violence”, were made as President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s government – with whom the DRP serves as part of a coalition government – said is would not not consider reconvening talks with opposition leader, former President Mohamed Nasheed until threats of violence ceased.

Nasheed and the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which represents country’s only elected opposition, said last week it would not rule out halting ongoing protests to facilitate fresh “high-level talks” with its political rivals. However, the party said it would only do so if it obtained  “substantial” commitments from government-aligned parties.

Proposed “Roadmap” talks were launched in February with the stated aim of overcoming the political deadlock resulting from the controversial transfer of power that brought President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan into office. Former President Nasheed and his party continue to allege that Waheed came to power in  a “coup d’etat” – and that the government is illegitimate.

MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told Minivan News last week that while the party’s protests which it maintains are “largely peaceful”, were “totally within” the law, it would not be a “big deal” to stop the street demonstrations if it would help secure meaningful talks.

However, Ghafoor claimed that the party was ultimately sceptical over the commitment of government-aligned parties to ensure “substantial” and “worthwhile” dialogue.

“We have always maintained dialogue is the best way to proceed in the current situation,” he claimed. “What we have seen in the last party talks has just been ridiculous demands such as the issues about keeping crows and using black magic. We found out as a party that we are not dealing with serious people.”

The last round of the UN-mediated talks, held at Vice President Waheed Deen’s Bandos Island Resort and Spa in early June, collapsed after parties aligned with the government presented the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) with a list of 30 demands.

The list included calls that the MDP “stop practising black magic and sorcery”, “stop the use of sexual and erotic tools”, and “not walk in groups of more than 10”.


MP Rasheed committed to MDP despite support for Majlis speaker

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Rasheed said he remains committed to the party even if he is “punished” by its Parliamentary Group for not supporting a no-confidence motion forwarded against Majlis Speaker Abdulla Shahid.

Rasheed told Minivan News today that he expected to remain an elected member of the party, which he continued to support, despite standing by his position to back the parliamentary speaker against a reported three-line whip enforced by the MDP.

During a vote of no confidence taken against Shahid yesterday, 45 out of the 74 parliament members present in the sitting voted in favour of the speaker and 25 voted against him. Two members abstained. MDP MPs Hassan Adil and Ahmed Rasheed were said to have voted against their party line. MDP MPs Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed and MP Ali Riza abstained.

MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said that the MPs who voted against the no confidence motion would now be required to explain themselves to the party’s Parliamentary Group Leader, MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

Hamid added that the MDP had not yet decided on what course of action may be taken to deal with the MPs who voted against the whip at a time when the party trails in parliamentary support to a coalition of government-aligned parties.  The MDP currently stands alone as an opposition party against the coalition government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, which it alleges was brought to power in a “coup d’etat”.

“I wouldn’t go as far as to say that we will do anything rash. Under these stressful circumstances we have to be disciplined as a party,” Ghafoor explained in regards to the possible measures that could be taken against MPs who had not supported the vote.

While the exact nature of action to be taken by the party against members who voted against the bill is presently unknown, MP Rasheed said he would not be looking to switch his political allegiance even when potentially facing being reprimanded or expelled.

“I believe in the MDP manifesto. There is no question to me that it is the only party that actually has a manifesto,” he claimed. “In my mind, there is also no one trying to force me out of the party.”

Last month, the MDP’s former President Dr Ibrahim Didi and former Vice President Alhan Fahmy switched allegiances to the Jumhoree Party (JP). The decision was taken after the MDP’s National Congress passed a majority vote to remove both men from their respective leadership posts after they stood accused of making statements contradictory to the party’s official line.

Despite pledging his allegiance to the party today, Rasheed maintained his support for Shahid in the no confidence motion, claiming that the present speaker, out of 77 parliamentary members, was the “only person right now” who should have the Majlis chair.

Despite Shahid representing the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Rasheed contend that the speaker – due to a perceived lack of power in the position of his party – would not directly support former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and his Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).  The PPM was formed last year after an increasingly bitter war of words between current DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and Gayoom, who had originally founded the party. The war of words saw the party split between supporters loyal to Gayoom and those in favour of Thasmeen’s tenure.


Questioned as to whether the MDP, through its Parliamentary Group, would be looking to discipline the MPs who failed to back the party line, Ghafoor would not be drawn into the possible repercussions until an internal review was complete.

“The issue is that these MPs went against the whipline. This has been noted by the Parliamentary group Leader.  He now wants to find out why,” he said. “If they go against the party line they must have a good explanation for doing so.”

Ghafoor claimed that as a party, the MDP had generally been “disciplined” in ensuring solidarity among its members during parliamentary voting – a decision he said had afforded it the best record among fellow parties.

“There have of course been mishaps from time to time where people have gone against the party line,” he said.

Ghafoor took the example of former Party President Dr Ibrahim Didi and Vice President Alhan Fahmy as a notable example of where its members had been reprimanded.

“At this delicate time, [voting against the party line] does serve to reduce confidence in the party,” he said.

“Major principles” were at stake in yesterday’s high-profile no-confidence motion, Ghafoor said, adding that there was particular pressure from grassroots supporters to ensure the no-confidence vote succeeded.

“This is nothing personal, but the party supporters are in no mood to tolerate such actions from their MPs,” he said.

Ghafoor claimed that whatever action the party may decide to take against MPs voting against the official MDP line, it would not act in a “rash” manner.

The MDP Parliamentary Group has maintained that it has held “serious reservations” for some time about the Parliamentary Speaker’s ability to pass policies into legislation – despite his capabilities and understanding of national politics.

Speaker support

Speaking during yesterday’s debate, DRP Leader Thasmeen stated that the no-confidence motion had been forwarded amid baseless accusations.  He defended his fellow party member, saying that he had been executing the responsibilities of the speaker in accordance with the parliament rules and procedures.

Thasmeen further claimed that the motion was an attempt by MDP to “break” the coalition after the party leadership’s recent “political failures.”

“Such a motion will not impact the ‘unity’ between the parties in the coalition supporting the government of President Waheed. So therefore I must say, yet again this is another wrong step taken by the MDP leadership,” Thasmeen added.

PPM spokesperson MP Ahmed Mahloof stated that despite his being an outspoken critic of Shahid who made several statements in the media and the parliament floor, he would stand by the speaker’s side today.

“Yesterday, the PPM Parliamentary Group (PG) came to a conclusion that this motion is a ‘trap’ set up by the MDP to ‘finish off’ the people and the ruling coalition,” he said.

“Today at a time where Abdulha Shahid is facing a grave matter at hand, I will stand by him. Abdulla Shahid will get all the votes from PPM. What we ask is that he act justly and equally,” he added.

MDP MP Ali Waheed during the debate alleged that the motion would reveal those MPs who spoke “in two mouths”, referring to the PPM MPs allegations of that Shahid and Thasmeen had cut deals with GMR and the government of former President Mohamed Nasheed to support the privatisation of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).


Parliamentary speaker raises “discord” concerns: Sun Online

Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid has claimed that discord such as the Majlis protests that saw President Mohamed Waheed Hassan initially blocked from providing his inaugural address this month has become a common occurrence since “authorities started doing things against the law.”

In an interview with the Sun Online news service, Shahid stressed that “any and all authorities” in the country were required to follow national laws in spite of whatever they wished to achieve whilst in office.

“In everything, we have lost control and things are going haywire, because steps have been taken in contravention to the dictates of the law,” he said.

“When the Executive starts violating the law, things would go wrong. As speaker of the Majlis, I am acting within the law, and I would not break the law even if the only way to achieve what I want to achieve politically is by breaking the law. The turmoil and tumult rampant in this country is the direct result of some authorities not respecting the law.”