Nasheed proposes constitution change to parliamentary system

The Maldives constitution may have to be amended to address issues arising from the dissolution of the ruling Progressive Coalition, opposition leader and former President Mohamed Nasheed told diplomats in Colombo.

The split between Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the Jumhooree Party (JP) has resulted in a government lacking popular support and will ultimately harm the Maldivian public, he said.

Nasheed called for amending the system of governance from a presidential system to a parliamentary system. He has long argued coalitions could only work in a parliamentary system of government.

The PPM last week announced the dissolution of the ruling coalition after the two parties clashed over control of the speakership in the newly elected People’s Majlis. The vote saw a win for PPM’s Abdulla Maseeh against the JP’s Gasim Ibrahim.

Gasim had won 23.35 percent of the vote in the first round of presidential polls last year, and his backing was crucial for the PPM’s win in the second round. The PPM had gained 29.72 percent of the vote in the first round and narrowly won the election against Nasheed with 51.39 percent.

Nasheed himself required the backing of the JP and a number of smaller parties to win the presidential election of 2008. The coalition led by Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) also fell apart shortly after Nasheed assumed power.

Speaking to private broadcaster Raajje TV last week, Nasheed said he would work through the newly elected parliament to amend the constitution and facilitate a transition to a parliamentary system.

The challenges faced in implementing the system of governance dictated by the constitution indicates that the Maldives needs a parliamentary system, Nasheed said.

He said he is ready to work with leader of the PPM and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom as well as Gasim to change the constitution.

“It is time for the system of governance in Maldives to be changed into a parliamentary system. When we move to a parliamentary system there won’t be any need to have a cabinet,” said Nasheed.

“The cabinet is very costly, we can cut down that as well [by moving to a parliamentary system]. What I want to say to President Maumoon is to think about how the Maldives have been governed in the past and what happened during the drafting of the constitution,” he was quoted as saying.

Nasheed had raised the same issue during his presidency in July 2010, again citing difficulties in governance. At the time, Nasheed’s MDP controlled a minority in parliament while the then-opposition opposed and blocked several flagship laws.

In response, Nasheed proposed to amend the constitution to either “complete the presidential system” or move to a parliamentary system. He had declared he was ready to go for a re-election following the change if all political parties could reach an agreement on the issue.

Speaking to Minivan News in February, Nasheed said: “Coalitions work in parliamentary systems where you can actually have ministers coming out from the parliament and therefore it’s possible to come to an arrangement. But when the cabinet is not in the parliament, an alliance doesn’t necessarily work.”

“The shuffling or the portions given to different parties are given from the cabinet, and the cabinet is a very superficial layer on the government. The actual essence is the parliament where you make the laws.”

But, Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail, who was the chairman of the committee responsible for drafting the 2008 Constitution, spoke against the change today, saying the public had already voted for the presidential system in a 2007 referendum and that any change must come through public consultation rather than an agreement between political parties.

“We were unable to reach an agreement on that in 2007, so it was decided that we should go for a public referendum, to let the people decide,” Ibra said.

“The people decided on this matter directly, so I don’t think representatives can change it back. Even if they do it they should consult the public, there should be a public discussion. I don’t think changing in any other way is beneficial for the nation,” he added.

Approximately 62 percent of the public backed the presidential form of governance in 2007. At the time both the MDP and incumbent President Abdulla Yameen’s former party, the Progressive Alliance (now dissolved), supported the parliamentary system while Gayoom supported a presidential system.

While in Colombo, Nasheed met the US ambassador to the Maldives Michele J. Sison, British High Commissioner to the Maldives John Rankin, Australian High Commissioner to the Maldives Robyn Mudie and the French Ambassador to the Maldives Jean-Paul Monchau.

In addition to this he also met International Finance Corporation country manager to the Maldives Adam Sack.


Attorney General unveils 207-bill legislative agenda

Attorney General (AG) Mohamed Anil unveiled a 207-bill legislative agenda last night for the current administration’s five-year presidential term.

Speaking at a ceremony held in Nasandhuraa Palace Hotel to launch the AG Offices’ strategic plan along with the legislative agenda, Anil said the the agenda was comprised of 98 new bills and 109 amendments to existing laws.

Anil observed, however, that bills should originate from parliament instead of the executive in “a perfect presidential system” and criticised the People’s Majlis for its lack of initiative.

“[Submitting bills] should be done by the Majlis as well. But we don’t see that spirit in the Maldives,” he said.

Of the 207 bills, Anil said the government hoped to submit 65 pieces of legislation to the legislature this year once the 18th parliament was sworn in after the elections on March 22.

“One of the highest priorities of the legislative agenda will be formulating bills for implementing the [policies] in the government’s manifesto,” he said.

The new legislation includes bills on establishing special economic zones, conducting public referendums, regulating the legal profession and health services, as well as new laws governing children’s rights, medical negligence, free expression, and implementation of the death penalty.

Anil said that the AG office was working with independent bodies to expedite and strengthen the functioning of new institutions created by the constitution.

The AG office has received assurances from the judiciary of its cooperation in drafting laws to strengthen the justice system, he added.

As a result of parliament’s failure to complete the legislative framework needed to enact the 2008 constitution, Anil said there were “many laws and provisions in our books that are contrary to the constitution.”

The new administration has commenced efforts to identify and abolish outdated and unconstitutional laws, Anil said, adding that the legislative agenda and strategic plan were formulated for that purpose.

Anil also criticised the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed – which took office three months after the ratification of the new constitution – for failing to pass legislation needed to strengthen and reform the judiciary.

He suggested that the Maldivian Democratic Party government did not prioritise legal reforms due to the political situation at the time. As a result, he added, the shortcomings of the justice system worsened over the years.

The AG’s office will review the problems in the judiciary and enact reforms during the next five years, he said.

Budget constraints and legislative framework

The AG also expressed concern with the MVR17 million (US$1.1 million) annual budget allocated for his office, which he said posed difficulties for executing its responsibilities.

While the office needed 43 lawyers, he noted that there were only 18 presently working at the office.

The AG’s Office should have a budget of similar size to that of the Prosecutor General, Anil insisted – which was MVR26 million (US$1.7 million).

The team working at the AG office was “inexperienced and young” but hardworking and determined, he added.

In August last year, parliament revealed that 43 bills were required to give effect to the constitution, of which 24 were submitted and 18 were passed by the 17th People’s Majlis.

Legislation currently under review at the committee stage includes the education bill, the penal code, the criminal justice procedures bill, and the evidence bill.

Among the 19 bills that have yet to be submitted included legislation governing public referendums, freedom of expression, press freedom, parliamentary ombudsman, state secrets, defamation, women’s rights, public services, trade unions, legal counsel, civil justice procedures, and national security.

The executive was also required to submit amendments to existing laws governing the Human Rights Commission, the Civil Service Commission, the auditor general, children’s rights, and family matters.

Meanwhile, prior to the ratification of the new constitution on August 7, 2008, parliament passed a General Regulations Act as parent legislation for over 80 regulations without a statutory basis, or which did not derive their authority from an act of parliament.

The parent act prolonged the lifespan of these regulations – deemed necessary for administrative functions and service provision – 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.

Since the first deadline for passing the new laws elapsed in 2009, parliament has been extending the general regulations law for one-year periods. The last extension was approved in April 2013.


Coalition governments incompatible with presidential system, contends former President Nasheed

A coalition government with cabinet posts divided among parties is not compatible with the presidential system envisioned in the Maldivian constitution, former President Mohamed Nasheed reiterated during campaign rallies at Fuvahmulah and Addu City this weekend.

Addressing large crowds in the two southernmost atolls, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate accused mogul politicians of forming political parties only to offer its members “on a platter” to negotiate coalition agreements.

“[They say] my party will enter a coalition with your party if I can get this many seats in cabinet, that many judges, as well as a large warehouse and two resorts,” Nasheed said in Fuvahmulah on Thursday night (April 25), adding that “business” deals were made between leaders while party members remained “oblivious.”

Nasheed had previously characterised the cabinet of President Dr Mohamed Waheed as less of a team committed to shared goals than a group of individuals with divided loyalties and disparate ideologies often working at cross-purposes.

Both the Maldives’ own experience of ruling coalitions as well as lessons from “human experience” have established the conditions whereby such alliances could govern effectively without becoming unstable, Nasheed observed.

“In a presidential system, dividing the cabinet into four or five parts is not something we could do under any circumstances, [and] it is not something permitted by the Maldivian constitution either,” Nasheed said in Fuvahmulah.

According to the constitution, Nasheed continued, cabinet ministers are appointed by the president and are sworn to serve at his pleasure.

The constitution does not permit cabinet ministers to take orders from their parties instead of the president, Nasheed added.

Coalition governments therefore went against “the spirit of the constitution,” said Nasheed, and could not function under a presidential system.

Nasheed repeated the criticism of power sharing coalitions in his speech the following night (April 26) in Hithadhoo, Addy City.

The incentive for the proposed “broad coalition” to compete against the MDP was the hoped-for rewards of government posts and the country’s resources, such as uninhabited islands, to be divided among coalition partners, Nasheed contended.

Power sharing agreement

Nasheed’s remarks came while parties in the ruling coalition led by President Dr Mohamed Waheed are reportedly engaged in discussions over power sharing agreements.

However, in addition to President Waheed’s Gaumee Ihthihad Party (GIP), all major government-aligned parties have fielded presidential candidates, including MP Abdulla Yameen from the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), MP Gasim Ibrahim from the Jumhooree Party (JP) and MP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali from the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

Smaller parties such as the religious conservative Adhaalath Party and the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) – led by Special Adviser to the President Dr Hassan Saeed – have entered into a coalition with Dr Waheed’s GIP.

While business magnate Gasim Ibrahim is reportedly in talks with Dr Waheed over a potential power sharing agreement, the JP presidential candidate has said he would not consider becoming the running mate of any other candidate.

At its recently-concluded fourth congress, DRP Leader Thasmeen meanwhile dismissed the possibility of a coalition with either the PPM or MDP.

The PPM was formed in 2011 by DRP founder, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, following months of factional squabbling and an acrimonious war of words between the PPM figurehead and his successor at DRP.

MDP rally in Addu City

PPM MP Ahmed Nihan told Minivan News last week that parties in the ruling coalition needed to reassess their views on power sharing after thousands of people attended a MDP rally on April 19 to celebrate the signing of Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid.

In his speech at the MDP rally in Addu City last night (April 26), Shahid meanwhile said that 1,300 people have signed for the party during the past week.

Speaking at his first MDP rally on April 19, Shahid pledged to carry out a recruitment drive across the country to bolster the party’s membership strength ahead of the September presidential election.


“Too little, too late”: President’s Office dismisses chances of MDP coalition

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has decided not to include the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in his national unity government, his advisor Ahmed ‘Topi’ Thaufeeg has told local media.

“It is too little, too late”, said President’s Office Spokesman Masood Imad, adding, “[the MDP] remain a viable opposition.”

Immediately after his accession to the presidency, Waheed announced that he would leave some cabinet posts vacant for the MDP.

However, feeling President Waheed to have taken power illegally, the MDP refused these overtures.

After the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) concluded that the transfer of power on February 7 did not amount to a coup, MDP Chairman ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik attended the newly-coined ‘Leader’s Dialogue’ meeting on Sunday.

Whilst local media had reported that Moosa requested a place for the MDP in the current government, Moosa himself told Minivan News yesterday that he had only asked for clarification on the MDPs position – whether it should be considered the ruling, or the opposition party.

Responding to this argument, Masood today said: “The point here is that the MDP fails to understand is that this is not a parliamentary system, it is a presidential system.”

This constitutional problem was also included in the observations of the CNI’s international observers.

“There are tensions within the Constitution itself with a Presidential system engrafted onto a Parliamentary system which will always be problematic,” commented Sir Bruce Robertson and Professor John Packer.

MDP Spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, who described some of the observers comments as “mocking a young democracy”,  today said the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) will discuss requesting a Supreme Court ruling on its role in the government.

“We don’t know who we are in government,” said Ghafoor.

“This is a sticky problem. The CNI’s assumptions are that the government has not changed, so it is the President’s prerogative to deliver on the MDP manifesto,” he continued.

President Waheed and his Gaumee Ittihad Party (GIP) joined the former coalition government, which included the MDP, the Jumhooree Party (JP) and the Adhaalath Party, to win the 2008 elections.

The coalition, however, began to break up after only 21 days when the JP withdrew. The Adhaalath Party was the last part to withdraw from the coalition in September 2011.

Local media today reported the Adhaalath party as having publicly lauded Waheed’s decision.

Sun Online reported Deputy Leader of Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Ibrahim Shareef as saying that the MDP ought to be allowed into the government if it adapts its policies.

Ghafoor interpreted these comments as evidence that certain leaders are “jittery”: “They want to straighten this out”.

The issue of a constitution comprising elements of both presidential and parliamentary systems was discussed by Waheed his official visit to India in May.

“You know our constitution is pretty much a cut-and-paste constitution. We have elements of parliamentary system as well as presidential system,” Waheed told the diplomatic community in New Delhi.

“The presidency is very much fashioned after presidency in the United States, and the parliament functions as a parliamentary system like in the UK. So there are issues that have to be resolved around that,” he continued.

Ghafoor also drew comparisons with the US system, arguing that after the 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon, his Vice-President and successor Gerald Ford did not reshuffle the executive.

Referring to the MDP’s purported requests to join the current government, Masood said, “If they are allowed to join the current government now – where is democracy?”

“We are one year away from elections where we can let the Maldivian people decide,” he added.