Amendments to Political Parties Act sent to committee amidst opposition MPs’ protest

Amendments submitted on behalf of the government to the Political Parties Act by ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Azhan Fahmy was sent to committee at today’s sitting of parliament.

Preliminary debate and voting on the bill took place amidst protests by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs over the arrest and conviction of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Opposition MPs have been protesting at every sitting since parliament returned from recess on March 2. Parliament has ceased providing live feed to television stations since the protests began.

According to the People’s Majlis secretariat, 20 MPs spoke during the debate. MDP MPs meanwhile used whistles and megaphones in their protest on the Majlis floor.

The amendments (Dhivehi) were accepted for consideration with 47 votes in favour and five abstentions and sent to the Independent Institutions Committee for further review.

The bill proposed abolishing or amending clauses in the political parties law that the Supreme Court had ruled were unconstitutional.

The amendments stipulate that a political party should have 3,000 registered members and 10,000 members to be eligible for state funding.


Government submits three bills to parliament

The government has submitted to the People’s Majlis amendments to the Political Parties Act and the Family Act as well as legislation on establishing an Islamic University.

According to Vnews, the President’s Office proposed abolishing or amending clauses in the political parties law that the Supreme Court had ruled were unconstitutional.

Amendments proposed to the the Family Act meanwhile seek to provide temporary shelter to divorced women and their children and establish rules for equitable distribution of property in divorce cases.

The bill on creating the Maldives Islamic University outlines the powers and responsibilities of the envisioned higher education institution.


Elections Commission fines Jumhooree Party for ninth time

The Elections Commission (EC) has fined the Jumhooree Party (JP) for a ninth time over fraudulent membership forms.

The EC explained in a press release that the JP was fined MVR10,000 (US$649) after the commission discovered repeated fingerprints of 36 persons on 258 party membership forms.

The fine was levied under Article 48(a) of the Political Parties Act.

In March, the EC also fined the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives after it emerged that a membership form was submitted on behalf of a deceased individual.

In June 2013, the Anti-Corruption Commission discovered that two membership forms submitted by former President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s now-defunct Gaumee Ihthihaad Party “were signed by persons who had passed away prior to the forms being sent to the EC.”


PPM, DRP fined over fraudulent membership forms

The Elections Commission (EC) has fined the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) over membership forms submitted in violation of the Political Parties Act.

The DRP was fined MVR5,000 (US$324) for submitting a number of membership forms with the fingerprint of the same person whilst the PPM was fined MVR6,000 (US$389) for submitting forms in violation of regulations.

The PPM was levied a higher fine as it was the party’s second offence, the EC noted.

In January, the ruling party was fined MVR5,000 after it emerged that a membership form was submitted on behalf of a deceased individual.

In June 2013, the Anti-Corruption Commission discovered that two membership forms submitted by former President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s now-defunct Gaumee Ihthihaad Party “were signed by persons who had passed away prior to the forms being sent to the EC.”


Elections Commission dissolves eight parties

The Elections Commission (EC) dissolved eight parties on Thursday for failing to reach the mandatory minimum of 3,000 registered members.

The eight parties were the People’s Alliance (PA), Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), Islamic Democratic Party (IDP), the Maldivian Labour Party, the Social Liberal Party, the People’s Party, the Maldivian National Congress (MNC), and the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Social Democratic Party.

The EC explained in a press statement that the eight parties were removed from the political parties registry after providing a three-month period to increase party membership.

“While most of these parties are not active at all, the Elections Commission made a public announcement in 2013 to find out where their offices were located as letters and other documents sent to the parties were not being delivered,” the EC stated.

“We also note that these parties to whom funds have to be released every year from the state budget have not been regularly submitting audit reports to the Elections Commission.”

As inactive parties were provided large amounts of state funding, the EC noted that dissolving the parties would alleviate the strain on the state budget.

In December 2012, parliament passed the Political Parties Act with a clause requiring a minimum of 10,000 members for registration.

The Supreme Court however struck down the article in September 2013 and the EC decided that the minimum party membership would fall to 3,000 as stipulated in the previous political party regulation.

The commission decided to dissolve the eight inactive parties last month and asked the parties to inform the EC of any debts or assets before February 7.

“We sent a letter to parties with membership below 10,000 to increase their members. But these parties are not being dissolved because they do not have 10,000. It is because they do not have the 3,000 member minimum,” EC Vice President Ahmed Fayaz explained at the time.

The councils of the Maldives Reform Movement (MRM) and the Gaumee Iththihaad Party (GIP) meanwhile voted to voluntarily disband in December.

With the dissolution of the eight parties, the Maldives currently has six active political parties. They are ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and its coalition partners – the Jumhooree Party (JP), the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA), and the Adhaalath Party. The remaining parties are the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Among the six, only MDA has membership below 10,000. According to the EC website, MDA currently has 7,537 members.

President Abdulla Yameen formed the PA in 2008 following a disagreement with half-brother and then-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Yameen resigned from the party and joined the newly-formed PPM in 2011.

Gayoom’s Attorney General Hassan Saeed set up the DQP in September 2008 ahead of his presidential bid. After unconditionally backing MDP candidate Mohamed Nasheed in the run-off against incumbent Gayoom in the 2008 presidential election, the party left the MDP-led coalition and became a vocal opponent of the Nasheed administration.

The party backed Yameen during the second round of the 2013 presidential polls after its coalition partner JP failed to make the run-off.

Current Home Minister Umar Naseer set up the IDP in 2005 and ran for president in 2008. He quit the party to join the DRP in 2010.

PPM MP ‘Redwave’ Ahmed Saleem established the Maldivian Labour Party in 2008 while the Social Liberal Party was a splinter from the MDP – founded by former MP and presidential candidate, Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail.


Q&A: MP Ahmed Abdulla – Ihavandhoo constituency

In a series of interviews to lead into the the 2014 parliamentary elections – scheduled for March 22nd – Minivan News will be sitting down with incumbent MPs.

All 77 sitting members have been contacted, from across the political spectrum, to be asked a standardised set of questions with additional topicals. The interviews will be published as and when they are received.

As part of the series, Minivan News talked to MP Ahmed Abdulla.

MP Ahmed Abdulla represents the Ihavandhoo constituency in Haa Alif atoll, and is a member of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Ahmed Naish: What made you enter the political arena and how?

Ahmed Abdulla: I entered the political arena at a time when citizens began efforts to make changes to the government after a long autocratic rule. I actually started working in the political arena before political parties were introduced in the country. But back then, we had to work individually or alone and very much in hiding. I got into politics before political parties were formed and started functioning. I was in government but left because of dissatisfaction with how things were back then and started working in politics.

AN: Based on your attendance and work in the last term, how would you judge your performance as an MP?

AA: I believe I have quite adequately fulfilled the responsibility entrusted to me by the people. I have attended Majlis sittings without fail. I took leave for very few sittings. In terms of attendance, I am among the MPs with the best attendance records. If we consider the Majlis’ performance, on every bill or every issue I raised my voice and said what I had to on that issue in the national and public interest. Especially on matters related to my constituency, I worked that way. So I am satisfied with my performance. The public also accepts my performance.  

AN: What are the main committees you were acting on? What particular bills did you focus on?

AA: My work is done mainly on the rules committee. As you know, the rules committee reviews regulations concerning the work of all government institutions and ministries and decides on changes. I have done a lot of hard work especially on regulations about tobacco, children, housing and a number of other regulations. I have chaired the rules committee as well during a lot of meetings. Majlis records will show how our work proceeded in those meetings that I chaired.

The second committee is our independent institutions committee. In that committee as well, I have worked to ensure independence for institutions, facilitate their functioning independent of government influence, and encourage them not to bow to pressure or restrictions from the government. We saw the results of that work. For example, we especially saw with the Elections Commission, as a result of our encouragement to work independently without bowing to the government, that they worked very independently in the last presidential election. That was the work of our committee and I performed my role well.

My biggest concern when I came into the People’s Majlis was the state of the Maldives’ property laws and the mortgage bill as well as various other laws dealing with child sexual abuse and gang crimes. I was the one who submitted the political parties bill. When political parties formed and became active, I believed they did not have the space legally to function optimally. I submitted the political parties bill to the Majlis, in accordance with the views of our party. I also submitted the mortgage bill. The political parties bill has now become law. The mortgage bill is in the process of becoming law. Efforts are also underway to amend the property laws to make citizens landowners, allow them to register their property and get rid of obstacles or difficulties in registering land. That bill has been drafted and, God willing, it will be submitted during the next session.

AN: What would you say are the biggest achievements within your term; in terms of what you have accomplished for your constituency and the country as a whole?

AA: I believe I did a lot of work on the gang crimes and weapons bill as well as on the research part for the child sexual abuse bill, especially regarding punishments for child sex offenders in light of the expert technical assistance we got for the bill. I worked hard to ensure that the punishments would be harsh and could not be reduced. God willing those efforts were successful. As a result, we made significant advances in ensuring legal protection for children. Likewise on the political parties bill, my thinking was to ensure that a party is empowered and able to be active in the political sphere. For that there has to be a sufficient number of people as members of a party. It was my initiative, my proposal, to require a certain number of party members and determine factors to be considered by the state before providing funding. I took the lead with these efforts and communicated with different parties. As a result, I believe the efforts were successful and the bill was passed the way we wanted and in line with our proposals.

AN: What would you say is the biggest mistake or worst step you have taken in your career? Why?

AA: I do not believe I have made a mistake in my work in the Majlis. As I am someone who is always mindful of present circumstances and prioritises progress for citizens, I do not believe I have made a mistake. Neither my constituents nor any others have brought something specific to my attention as a mistake I have made. So I believed I have worked adequately and well enough.

AN: Are you taking the optional committee allowance of an additional MVR 20,000? Why or why not?

AA: I did not support taking the committee allowance. I did not vote for it. However, as you know, the work of the People’s Majlis is concluded by the will of the majority and its decisions are approved by the majority. So when it was decided to provide a committee allowance, I don’t really want to not take it. I take the allowance. However, based on the income I receive from the People’s Majlis and given the way my work is organised, the true benefit [of the committee allowance] will be for the people.

AN: What is your view about parliamentarians and other public servants declaring their financial assets publicly for the electorate to be able to refer to?

AA: I have no problem with [publicly declaring assets]. I have nothing to hide. It is not a problem at all for me for the public to know what I own or do not own.

I believe we are the representatives of the people. I believe the public should know of our affluence or our financial capability and our wealth when we came into Majlis and how much it changed after we [became MPs] – I believe the public has a right to know these things. I don’t believe our affairs should be hidden from the public.

AN: Are you re-contesting in the next elections? What do you hope to accomplish should you be elected for a new term?

AA: Yes, I am contesting for the same constituency. I have received cooperation and assistance from my constituents and I believe I have their support as well.

In truth, I want to see Maldivian citizens enjoy complete domestic or internal independence. I do not believe our citizens have proper domestic independence or freedom at present. We have to do a lot of work to that end. In addition to that, we have work to do to ensure financial independence for citizens. Our economic policy and business policies should be framed to ensure financial independence for citizens and the required legal framework should be completed. If we are unable to work to that end, I do not believe we can save our citizens from financial slavery. I believe as long as citizens are not free from financial or monetary slavery, they will not be able to vote freely the way they want. So I believe we have a lot of hard work to do to achieve this. We have to shape the economy and our policies to ensure positive changes to the standard of living for the people. This is necessary for a free and fair election and ensuring the right to vote freely. So I believe these things need to be done in the country despite the challenges.

AN: What improvements do you feel the 18th parliament will need to make to improve as an institution?

AA: To improve the Majlis as an institution, we need to learn to work professionally. The progress that our citizens want to see is unlikely to be achieved if we cannot learn to work professionally. Under some circumstances, there are certain challenges to working that way. That might be because our democracy is in its infancy or it could be a problem we face because we are not fully ready or mature for democracy. But I believe the 18th Majlis will be one where we work professionally, more actively and with a better discipline than at present.

AN: What are your thoughts on party switching – do you think it undermines the party system?

AA: I believe switching parties is a betrayal of the public. That betrayal is not something we can accept. I certainly do not believe that changing parties is something that could be done. There are lots of reasons. For example, a candidate contests on an MDP ticket for a Majlis seat. A lot of people does a lot of hard work with that person, including the hard work and money of a lot of people who are loyal to the party. We have to respect those people. They would not want to see the result of their hard work being the MP going to another party when he is elected. So I believe there should be legal obstacles to it as well and that discipline must be maintained to respect the public. I do not support changing parties at all. I do not think [MPs] should be able to do it either.

AN: What is your view about the current judiciary and what steps do you believe can be taken to improve it?

AA: The judiciary is an institution that needs to gain public confidence. The public perception of the judiciary today is poor, unfortunate and sad. The public senses that it is a place more likely to commit injustices than provide justice. If this is the case, it’s a loss to the nation in every sense. The lack of the means to establish justice impartially among the people is a serious misfortune. Likewise, if we consider investors, there are problems that arise due to the weakness of the judiciary.

People are reluctant to invest in the Maldives. So considering all this, we need to establish a sound judiciary in the country. To do that, we need to reshape the system to ensure justice. I do not believe there is room to work independently of political influence because of the way the judiciary is organised and because of the composition of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). Given the composition of the JSC, there are a number of members who could only remain in the commission with the approval of politicians. So I believe we need to change that situation. There must be a way to work in the JSC without being subject to the influence of politicians.

The parent institution for judges is the JSC. Judges exert strong influence on the JSC, too. If this is the case, they would face obstacles to working independently. We need big changes to the system to reform all this – changes to the rules governing hiring, the appointment and dismissal of judges. We need to make the JSC an institution that can work independently and free of external influences. There is a lot of work to be done to reform the judiciary. It will not be easy. But it is something that has to be done for the future of the country and the prosperity and contentment of future generations. I wish to see the judiciary reformed and functioning properly.


Elections Commission processing membership forms, but yet to recognise new parties

The Elections Commission (EC) has yet to formally recognise any new parties meeting the minimum membership requirement of 10,000 stipulated in a recent bill, the commission has stated, but is processing membership forms.

Following the passage of Political Parties Act 11 parties – including former President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s Gaumee Iththihaadh Party (GIP) – were removed from the commission’s registry for failing to meeting the minimum membership. It also removed the parties from the list of political parties published on its website.

Speaking to local media, Secretary General of the Elections Commission Ahmed Asim said the commission had begunto process the membership forms submitted by political parties prior to the enactment of the act, based on advice given to the commission by the parliament.

Parliament’s Independent Institutions Oversight Committee has meanwhile instructed the Elections Commission to begin processing the forms submitted by political parties, following a submission filed by the Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) led by tourism magnate Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam.

According to Asim, President Mohamed Waheed’s GIP and the MDA had both submitted more than 10,000 membership forms to the elections commission at the time the commission announced that parties lacking the required number of members would immediately be dissolved.

“Apart from those two parties, we have been processing membership forms submitted by other political parties. However, we have not yet decided whether to publicise the names of the new parties that attain the 10,000-member mark,” Asim told Haveeru.

The Supreme Court has issued a stay order on the elections commission ordering them not to take any decision that would dissolve any political party prior to the court coming to a decision on the matter. The order was based on a case filed at court by the Attorney General.

Despite President Waheed’s decision to veto the Political Parties bill and to return it to the house, parliament overruled him with an overwhelming super majority of 60 votes.

MPs representing both the government coalition and the opposition alleged that President Waheed had rejected the bill because it involved his personal interests and that his party GIP would be one of the first to be dissolved after the law came into force.

The bill had come under heavy criticism from several smaller political parties including President Waheed’s own party – which at the time had less than 3000 members – claiming the bill was an attempt to destroy the party.

Following the passage of the bill, the Attorney General lodged a case in the Supreme Court requesting a writ of mandamus against the Elections Commission to prevent dissolution of political parties that failed to maintain the required 10,000 members as stipulated in the Political Parties Act.

Deputy Solicitor General Ahmed Usham was reported in local media as stating that the enactment of the Political Parties Act meant political parties that did not have the required number of members would be dissolved without any transitional period.

Following the ratification of Political Parties Act, only five political parties remain registered in the Maldives. Remaining parties include the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and four government-aligned parties” the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Jumhoree Party (JP) and Adhaalath Party (AP).


Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim to join PPM “very soon”

People’s Alliance (PA) MP and Parliament Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim has revealed he intends to join Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

Nazim told local media that despite being PA’s parliamentary group leader, he had always worked closely with the PPM since the party’s inception in October 2011.

PA’s former president, Abdulla Yameen, was elected as PPM’s presidential candidate on Saturday (March 30) ahead of the  2013 presidential elections in September.

“PA was formed for a specific purpose wasn’t it? It was formed for the political future of Yameen as he wanted out of the DRP [Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party] at the time,” Nazim told local newspaper Haveeru.

“So when Yameen chose to further his political career through PPM the result is very clear isn’t it? However, my switch to DRP had to be put off as the political party bill was still in the parliament,” he explained.

PPM is the second largest party in the Maldives with a total of 22,765 members, according to February’s figures. The party is led by former autocratic ruler of the Maldives and half-brother of Yameen, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

In regards to the PA, Nazim stated that future progress of the Maldives lies with the functioning of larger parties, hence why he voted in favour of the Political Parties Act to dissolve parties with less than 10,000 members.

The Political Parties Act, ratified by President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik on March 12, saw a total of 11 parties removed from the Election Commission’s political parties register – including the PA.

Out of the 16 parties that had existed prior to the bill’s ratification, only the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), PPM, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party, Jumhoree Party and Adhaalath Party remain registered in the Maldives.

“It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to smaller parties. But if so there is a fear that it would lead to a tribal system in the Maldives,” Nazim told local media.

“If we start giving every party a seat in the cabinet and companies, the whole thing will function without a proper system. We can see that from the coalitions we’ve formed so far,” he added.

According to local media, PPM will have secured a total of 19 seats in parliament should Nazim sign to the party.

Although Nazim did not give an exact date for the switch, he told Haveeru that it would take place “very soon”.

Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.


Attorney General files case requesting Supreme Court prevent dissolution of smaller political parties

The Attorney General has filed a case at the Supreme Court requesting it declare that existing smaller political parties would not be dissolved following the ratification of the new Political Parties Act.

On March 2013, a similar case was filed by the attorney general requesting a writ of mandamus against the Elections Commission to prevent dissolution of those political parties which failed to maintain the required 10,000 members as stipulated in the Political Parties Act.

Following the case, Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction against the Elections Commission ordering it to withhold the dissolution of political parties that did not have the required membership.

During the hearing of the new case filed as an ex parte case on Wednesday, state attorney Ahmed Usham contended that there were legal issues with the Political Parties Act.

Usham argued that although the constitution states that a fundamental right could be limited only through legislation, the state was not of the view that the right to association and form political parties be limited as strictly as stipulated by the act.

He added that political parties were also separate legal entities under both the political parties’ regulation that was in place prior to the enactment of the new act, and therefore would have conducted commercial transactions and hired employees.

Therefore, dissolution of political parties Usham argued, would compromise the rights of several groups of people.

He also contended that requirement of specific number of members in a political party varied from country to country, but countries with larger populations than the Maldives had a lower minimum requirement for party membership.

Though the case is being heard as an ex parte case, tourism magnate Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam’s Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) also intervened in the case.

Speaking during the hearing, MDA’s lawyer Maumoon Hameed contended that following the enactment of the Political Parties Act, several rights of the political party had been compromised.

He also said that the requirement of 10,000 members was too large compared to the population of the country.

Hameed contended that the bill’s stipulation that newly formed political parties would have a three month period to gain membership, while existing parties did not have the same opportunity, was unfair.

The MDA also requested the Supreme Court declare that existing smaller political parties would not be dissolved according to the law.

Today’s hearing was heard by the full seven member bench of the Supreme Court, and concluded without mention of a further hearing on the matter.

Passage of the bill

The Political Parties bill was passed on December 2012 however, President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik – whose own Gaumee Iththihaadh Party (GIP) is among those set to be dissolved – refused to ratify the bill and sent it back to parliament for reconsideration in January.

On March 5, with unanimous support from both parliament’s minority leader and majority leader, the bill was forced into law, overruling the presidential veto. Out of the 67 members present during the vote, 60 voted in favour of the passage of the bill while six voted against the bill and one MP abstained.

Article 11 of the law states that at least 10,000 signatures are needed to register a party with the Elections Commission (EC), which would be mandated to monitor that membership does not fall below the figure.

Parties unable to sign 10,000 members would be dissolved.

Immediate dissolution of smaller political parties

Following ratification, President of the Elections Commission (EC) Fuad Thaufeeq stated that the commission’s interpretation of the act suggested that political parties that did not have a minimum of 10,000 members could be abolished immediately.

He stated that once the act was gazetted, the commission was of the view that smaller political parties would immediately be dissolved. However, he said the EC’s legal team was currently reviewing the act and would make a decision based on its report.

“Our legal team is currently reviewing the law before it actually is enacted. That the bill has passed with such a strong majority means that the commission will make all the necessary arrangements to begin enforcing the law,” he said.

He added that the law gives the Elections Commission additional powers to regulate and discipline political parties, and powers to take action against parties violating the law.

Despite several parties facing being dissolved, Thaufeeg said that he hoped to see several parties registered under the new law.

Following the enactment of the act, several smaller political parties including President Waheed’s GIP, his Special Advisor Dr Hassan Saeed’s Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), MDA and religious conservative Adhaalath Party criticised the Act, stating that they would take the matter to the Supreme Court and seek invalidation of the bill.