The parliament today accepted for consideration a constitutional amendment proposing an age limit of 30 to 65 years for the president and vice president.
Government-aligned MP Mohamed Ismail’s bill has fuelled speculation of President Abdulla Yameen planning to replace Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, who is now 33 and ineligible for the position.
Presidential candidates must be 35 years of age, according to the constitution.
Dismissing the “rumours” last month, Adeeb told Minivan News that he has “no interest at this stage.”
Presenting the bill to parliament today, MP Ismail said its purpose is “facilitating opportunities for youth.” The Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) MP said he proposed the 65-year cap as the president should be “young, intelligent, daring, active, and energetic.”
He noted that 65 years is the retirement age in the Maldives. A 70-year-old or 80-year-old would find it difficult to fulfil the responsibilities of the office, Ismail contended.
The amendment bill was accepted with 44 votes in favour, five against, and sent to a parliamentary committee for review.
A three-quarters majority or 64 votes will be needed to amend the constitution. The Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and coalition partner MDA controls 48 seats in the 85-member house.
The ruling coalition will need the backing of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) or Jumhooree Party (JP) MPs to pass the amendment.
Several JP MPs voted in favour of the bill.
If passed, the amendment will bar JP leader Gasim Ibrahim from contesting the next presidential election. The business tycoon will be 66 in 2018.
During the preliminary debate today, opposition MPs argued that it should be up to the public to decide whether a presidential candidate is too young or old for the presidency.
MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, parliamentary group of the MDP, said he favoured lowering the age limit to 18 years, but objected to the 65-year age limit.
MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy said the constitution should not be amended to serve the interests of an individual. But PPM MPs denied that the amendment was “tailor-made” for Adeeb.
JP MP Ali Hussain said constitutional amendments should only be proposed after reaching a consensus among political parties. No democratic country has an upper age limit for the president, he said.
MP Ahmed Nihan, parliamentary group leader of the PPM, said the majority party will decide its stance following discussions, but said he personally supported it. Other pro-government MPs also backed the amendments in their “individual capacity.”
PPM MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla said amending the constitution might be necessary “under some circumstances” to allow the president to replace a “disloyal” vice president.
“I’m not saying at all that we are trying to bring a particular person to the vice presidency. But if it has to be done, the PPM parliamentary is ready,” he said.
Last month, newspaper Haveeru suggested that the ruling coalition might also amend the constitution to authorise the president to appoint or dismiss his deputy.
The relationship between President Abdulla Yameen and Dr Jameel is reportedly under strain. His cousin, Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, was dismissed from the cabinet last month. The government did not provide a reason for the dismissal.