Speaker Shahid denies asking Nazim to delay vote on secret no-confidence ballots

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim told local media on Sunday that although the amendment to allow secret ballots when taking no confidence votes had been passed in the General Affairs Committee, Speaker Abdulla Shahid had asked to delay placing the vote on the agenda.

However, Shahid has denied having asked for the delay, stating that Nazim had not brought up the matter for discussion. He stated that it was normal to table larger issues for voting after giving ample time to MPs to prepare, and that the same procedure would be followed in this issue.

“As a rule, I have always tabled larger issues in parliament in such a way which gives ample time to members. Otherwise, if such a huge issue is put on agenda suddenly, it is the Parliament Speaker who will get blamed,” Shahid was quoted as saying, adding, “Had the deputy speaker discussed the matter with me, the answer would still be that the members must be given enough time.”

Shahid confirmed that the report of the General Affairs Committee would be sent to the MPs once work resumes on Monday, stating that the voting would then be duly put on agenda.

To be deemed official, amendments to parliament’s regulations and procedures have to be approved through a vote at the parliament floor even though they are passed at committee stage.

No confidence vote on Home Minister

Meanwhile, a no confidence vote against the Minister of Home Affairs Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has been scheduled for next Tuesday.

“It was my understanding that we needed to come to a decision on the matter of secret ballots before the no confidence vote [against Jameel] is taken. But the Speaker who is in Islamabad asked for the vote to be delayed. Thus no decision will be made on the secret ballots before the no confidence vote,” Nazim said.

Shahid, however, said that he sees no reason why the matter of allowing secret ballots needed to be settled before the taking of the no confidence vote against Jameel, stating he saw no relation between the two issues.

“The matter of allowing secret ballots was raised in majlis after I had already scheduled the no confidence vote on Jameel. Now, the issue which was first placed on agenda must be carried forward, shouldn’t it?”

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has also proposed a no confidence vote against President Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

Minivan News tried contacting Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim but he was not responding to calls at the time of press.


Date to resume parliamentary sessions “yet to emerge”, claims MDP

An exact date for resuming parliamentary sessions in the Maldives has “yet to emerge” following the suspension of the Majlis Speaker, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has said, as government-aligned parties request for the chamber to be reopened to MPs.

MDP MP and spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told Minivan News today that the decision by Speaker Abdulla Shahid to suspend parliament “indefinitely” on July 31 had been the correct course of action, adding that MPs were on the “right track” to finding a potential resolution during the final 10 days of Ramazan.

Despite the claims, government-aligned MPs have continued to criticise the conduct of the MDP over the Majlis suspension.  The Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) has this week urged that parliamentary sessions continue with the assistance of security forces to remove any members attempting to disrupt hearings.

Speaker Shahid at the time of announcing the suspension of parliament said that MDP MPs had confronted him in his private chambers after party member Mohamed Rasheed ‘Kubey’ was forcibly removed at the beginning of sitting.

“Moreover, confrontations occurred between MPs in the chamber to the point of becoming dangerous,” an official statement read, adding that “an atmosphere of calm necessary to conduct sittings could not be assured” as all recent sittings had to be cancelled due to disorder.

Shahid explained that he decided to invoke the Speaker’s authority under section 213(e) of the rules of procedure to cancel sittings indefinitely as he believed a political solution had to be sought through dialogue among parliamentary group leaders.

However, local media yesterday reported that DQP Vice President and Vilufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed had sent a letter to the speaker citing the conduct and perceived role of the MDP in having parliament suspended as an “infringement” of democratic rights in the country.

As well as calling for notification of the present situation to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) and the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU), Riyaz was quoted by local newspaper Haveeru as calling for parliament to press ahead with its work to amend and enact national legislation such as through the various parliamentary committees.

“The work of the committees is stalled due to the suspended parliament. Hence as the laws to combat the rising crime rates, unrest, violence and acts of terrorism are held up at the committees, we request [the Speaker] facilitate the resumption of Parliament sessions and Committees,” a letter attributed to Riyaz read.

“Article 105 of the Constitution obligates the security forces to assist the speaker.”

When contacted today, DQP Secretary General Abdulla Ameen forwarded Minivan News to Riyaz himself for a response to the letter, however the MP was not answering calls at the time of press.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the DQP’s coalition partner the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) said it had not been involved in any talks to resume the Majlis sessions.

DRP Parliamentary Group Leader and MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom nonetheless called on the MDP to give up on its “stubbornness” and respect democratic rights in the nation in order to facilitate parliament resuming its work.

Dr Mausoom did not elaborate on the exact commitments he believed the MDP should make regarding addressing its “stubbornness”.

Meanwhile, MDP MP Ghafoor contended that the suspension of parliament had been the result of an understanding with the speaker concerning “internal security” in the Majlis chamber.

“The Majlis is not a place where you should be forced to remove an MP from chamber, it was not feasible to continue like that,” he said, concerning the atmosphere in parliament leading to the institution’s suspension.

Ghafoor contended that the speaker had decided under existing parliamentary regulation to discontinue holding sessions in the Majlis until a solution to the current unrest could be found through proposed talks between parliamentary leaders.

“Dr Waheed is also invited to join the discussions,” he said. “As far as I know talks are on track.”

Ghafoor claimed that the party had nonetheless committed to calling off it’s “direct action” street protests – conducting on consecutive nights last month as part of aims to “topple” the present government of President Waheed. The MDP alleges the administration of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan came to power on February 7 in a “coup d’etat”.

“Although we are within our right to protest, we have suspended these protest for the last ten days of Ramazan,” he said. “We have done this voluntarily to give enough time for talks to be conducted in the Majlis and this is shaping up well.”

According to Ghafoor, the decision to stop protests during the remainder of the Islamic holy month had been in order to open talks with government-aligned parties and the president within the Majlis to outline a plan to move forward with parliament.

“I believe we are on the right track [regarding recommencing parliamentary sessions],” he claimed. “There is now a ten day window for all parties represented in the Majlis to hold discussions. All the conditions are right for talks to resume.”

Sun Online reported today that discussions were taking place between representatives of the government coalition parties on whether President Waheed should join the proposed discussions between the country’s parliamentary group leaders.

The report added that the president was presently yet to decide on whether he would be participating in talks in line with requests from the opposition MDP.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad told Minivan News today that aside from the previously proposed all-party talks that were established by as part of a wider roadmap plan announced in February, Doctor Waheed was not presently involved in trying to resolve the issue of parliament’s suspension.


Speaker no-confidence motion scheduled for hearing on June 5

The Secretariat of the Majlis had announced that a no-confidence motion against Speaker of the House Abdulla Shahid has been scheduled to be heard on June 5, the day after the parliament reconvenes, reports Haveeru.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) passed the motion on April 17 alleging that Shahid had been making decisions relating to significant parliamentary issues without discussing them first with various political parties.

The motion was signed by 27 of the MDP’s then 32 representatives in the Majlis. The MDP currently has 31 members in the house after Shifag ‘Histo’ Mufeed defected to the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

The party claimed that Shahid had been acting outside of his mandate by deciding to suspend certain parliament regulations, whilst opting to follow others that were alleged to be to his personal benefit.

Haveeru reports that the Parliament’s general committee must now decide on the number of MPs that will be involved in that debate, the extent of that debate and the time allowed for the debate.

The speaker has been targeted by MDP protesters following the motion, with large groups gathering outside Shahid’s residence to call for his resignation on April 21.


IPU requests parliament proceed without obstruction

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) has called on all political parties in the country to ensure that parliament is not impeded when the People’s Majlis reconvenes tomorrow.

Parliament is set to open  for the first time since members of the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) obstructed the session from opening on March 1.

In a day of ongoing international developments regarding both the legitimacy of the government of Mohamed Waheed Hassan and the functioning of the People’s Majis, the IPU held a press conference today in Male’ calling for a peaceful resolution to the political stalemate resulting from a controversial transfer of power last month.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union is the world organisation of parliaments and was established in 1889. It works to foster coordination and exchange between representative institutions across the globe. The IPU also offers technical support to affiliated nations. The Maldives has been affiliated with the organisation since 2005.

Amidst ongoing allegations by the MDP that President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has replaced Mohamed Nasheed through a “coup d’etat” assisted by a mutiny among sections of the police and military, the party’s leadership has said it is committed to continuing to obstruct the Majlis until early elections are first agreed upon.

The increasingly fractious and partisan atmosphere within Maldivian political circles led to MDP MPs on March 1 preventing President Waheed from performing his constitutional duty of opening parliament with a state of the nation speech.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has said that his party intends to continue efforts to block the Majlis from opening until President Waheed bows to international pressure from bodies such as the Commonwealth and the EU and sets a date for early elections to resolve the questions of his legitimacy democratically.

Amidst the stand off, Martin Chungong, Director of Programmes for the IPU, told the gathered media that it was vital for parliament to preserve its integrity by continuing to function correctly as well as calling on all parties to avoid inciting or committing acts of violence during the session.

The IPU delegation said that their remit within the Maldives remained to try and facilitate a peaceful resolution to the political upheaval faced by President Waheed since he controversially came to power on February 7.

To this end, Chungong said he believed that it was for the Maldivian people, and not an external party, to provide a solution to the current political stalemate.

Despite calling for a peaceful resolution, the IPU delegation stressed that it was ultimately down to the parliamentary speaker to enforce any decision to remove MPs who were openly trying to obstruct tomorrow’s session from taking place.

Meanwhile, newspaper Haveeru has reported that following fierce debate today amongst its leaders, the MDP had decided to prevent President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan from entering the chamber tomorrow, in fulfilment of his constitutional obligation to address the opening of the People’s Majlis.

The party’s democratic group has reportedly agreed to allow Speaker Adbullah Shaheed to enter the People’s Majlis after having barred his access on March 1. The group has also agreed to allow a minute’s silence in commemoration of the former Foreign Minister Fathullah Jameel who recently passed away.

After this point in tomorrow’s proceedings though, MDP MPs have pledged to begin their protests despite concerns also being raised by the the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) about obstructing parliament from functioning.

Speaking to Minivan News earlier today, MDP spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said that within the current climate, continuing to try and block the Majlis was a “thorny issue,” but that he believed that the party could viably continue its attempts to block parliament.

He added that from the MDP’s perspective, the party had little choice but to continue to try and prevent parliament from continuing in order to “protect” the integrity of the Majlis.

Despite CMAG’s criticism of efforts to block parliament from functioning, Ghafoor claimed that international calls from groups like the Commonwealth for early elections and constitutional reforms showed that there were questions to be answered over the legitimacy of the present government.

“We do not believe Dr Waheed to be a legitimate leader,” he said. “The MDP’s position is to try and find a political situation to agree on an election date and the corresponding constitutional reforms required to do this before opening parliament. This was highlighted and agreed by MDP members, but rejected by the opposition.”

Ghafoor claimed that the MDP has been working with the government and opposition politicians to try and secure an end to the current political deadlock.

Parliamentary Group leader Ibrahim Mohamed ‘Ibu’ Solih, has previously expressed concern that Dr Waheed was not open to finding a potential solution on a timetable for elections.

Nasheed on front lines

Former President Nasheed told his supporters that he himself planned to be on the front lines of the protests outside the reconvened Majlis session tomorrow and claimed that authorities “would have to shoot him” before they could proceed with the opening.

In responding to the MDP’s comments, President Waheed’s spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza called on former President Nasheed to “stop advocating violence” particularly among young people, in regards to blocking the Majlis and opposing the government.

“More than 200 youths currently face charges for torching public buildings since February 8,” he added.

Though Riza said that the public would be free to gather on some of the capital’s roads to protest, he added that inside the parliament chamber, it was for the Speaker of the Majlis and not the government to ensure parliament functioned correctly.

The government spokesperson added that just as under the government of Mohamed Nasheed, the speaker had control of 60 Majlis guards that had the power to remove disruptive elements from the parliamentary floor.


Discussions for Parliament’s reconvening at a “crucial and sensitive” juncture

Speaker of the People’s Majlis Adbulla Shahid has that discussions regarding the reconvening of Parliament are ongoing. Despite his belief that a sit-down with all party leaders was not currently possible, Shahid stated that talks were being held on a party by party basis.

Shahid added that details of these discussions, if released prematurely, could damage progress. “That’s why in this crucial and sensitive juncture, I urge all political parties to recognize the importance of dialogue and thus refrain from actions that would impede the discussions.”

The scheduled opening of Parliament last week was cancelled after MPs from the Maldivian Democratic Party blocked Shahid’s entry to the chamber in protest against the government’s reluctance to fix a date for fresh elections.

In response to this, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progresive Party of the Maldives (PPM) joined the Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) withdrew from the roadmap talks, which are aimed at ending the current political crisis.


Fewer expatriate detainments post-visa reform

Fewer expatriates have been detained for unpaid visa fees before leaving the country since Immigration Control adapted its policy to “international standard procedure,” Immigration Controller Abdulla Shahid has said.

Previously, expatriate workers have been allowed to leave the Maldives without paying outstanding visa fees, Haveeru reports. The policy allegedly cost the Maldivian government Rf 120 million (US$7.8 million) last year.

Shahid told Haveeru that the Maldives’ former policy allowing expatriate workers to leave with outstanding visa fees was a rare case within the international community.

Immigration recently required recruitment agencies to pay visa fees for expatriate workers for a minimum of three months in a lump sum.

Shahid said that fees are non-refundable if a worker does not stay for a visa’s entire duration.


MPs deny involvement following rumours of DRP-PA plan to oust Speaker

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) parliamentary group leader and MP Moosa ‘Reeko’ Manik has denied rumours the MDP is planning forward a no-confidence motion against Speaker of the Parliament, DRP MP Abdulla Shahid.

Late last week, opposition leader of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Ahmed Thasmeen Ali alleged that some DRP and coalition partner People’s Alliance (PA) MPs were plotting with MDP MPs to forward a no-confidence motion against the Speaker.

‘’MDP MPs will always, always vote according to the party line,” claimed Moosa, dismissing rumours of a planned no-confidence motion against Shahid.

“MDP is not a party divided into factions and groups,’’ he added, in reference to the recent factional turmoil within the opposition.

He claimed the intention of the rumours was to divide the MDP parliamentary group, “because DRP has already been split,’’ he claimed. “MDP will never fall into factions, no matter how much the opposition tries.’’

Thasmeen last week told the media he would not support such a vote, and assurances that “most” of the DRP MPs would not vote against Shahid.

The PA Secretary General Ahmed Shareef told Minivan News that no information on the accusations raised last week by Thasmeen.

“Nothing has been done to forward a no-confidence motion [against the Speaker],” said Shareef.

DRP MP Ahmed Nihan also dismissed rumours of the joint no-confidence motion against the Speaker as false.

”There are a few who are trying to split our party and they are taking advantage of this,” said Nihan. ”They are circulating this rumor through the media, and as far as I am concerned, it has never been discussed.”

He said that no DRP MPs had informed him of a potential no-confidence motion.

Meanwhile, DRP MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom emphasised that DRP MPs “will not join the no-confidence motion against Shahid and have not even discussed anything like that.”

Dr Mausoom said he could confirm that DRP MPs had not planned to put the motion forward.

”There maybe someone bitter about Shahid who wishes to do so, but he is the best Speaker of parliament I have ever seen,” Dr Mausoom said. ”He has worked in a very volatile environment, but he has handled the situation well as a smooth operator.”

Dr Mausoom said he was ready to breach the party’s three-line whip in the event the DRP did decided to put forward a motion to dismiss the Speaker.

However, daily newspaper Haveeru has quoted a DRP MP anonymously that discussions about forwarding a motion to dismiss Shahid have been going on for two months, along with potential candidates for the speaker position.

Leader of the DRP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali originally raised the matter when he told the media that he had information that a no-confidence motion against Shahid was to be filed in parliament in what would be rare cooperation between DRP, MDP and PA MPs.


Website leaks ticket reservation for Speaker and DRP Leader’s alleged trip to Delhi

The Dhivehi Post website has leaked a document it claims is the ticket reservation for leader of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, and Speaker of the Parliament Abdulla Shahid, to fly to India for “secret talks” with GMR.

The website last week alleged that Thasmeen and Shahid had received US$1 million from Indian infrastructure giant GMR to cease opposition to the firm’s take over of  Male’ International Airport.

The booking, apparently made in the name of the two DRP MPs, appears to have been reserved by ‘FCM Travel Solutions India Ltd GMR’ and was issued on October 26 for travel on October 30 to Delhi, via Colombo on Sri Lankan Airlines. The cost of each ticket was 42,749 Indian rupees (US$934).

Minivan News can confirm that air travel arranged by GMR for Maldivian journalists visiting the opening of Delhi Terminal 5 in July was booked by the Indian corporate travel firm ‘FCM Travel Solutions(India)Ltd’, and is seeking to clarify the legitimacy of the tickets.

Last week Managing Director of GMR Male International Airport Limited, P Sripathy, told Minivan News the allegations were “totally false and baseless, and very disappointing and damaging to our reputation. We have never met any members of the opposition to date.”

Thasmeen and Shahid likewise dismissed the allegations as ”baseless and false”.

”Out of all the articles published by the Dhivehi Post so far, most of them are untrue,” Thasmeen told Minivan News. ”Like I said before, I did not go to India and I have never met anyone from GMR.”

Thasmeen said that the website was operated by “political figures” and their intentions was to split the DRP leadership and “smear its respect.”

”They are doing this for political gain. If you look at the articles very carefully and try to understand who runs it, it becomes very clear,” he said. ”I do not want to tell the media yet.”

Shahid n”I have not even been to India lately, they are all lies and false accusations,” Shahid said. ”It is a website that publishes false allegations very often, it is operated by some persons who stay hidden.”

Shahid said the aim of the website was to split the DRP and ferment aggression inside parliament.

The Dhivehi Post claimed that it was possible Shahid and Thasmeen would not have an Indian immigration stamp in their passports if they waited at the airport as a transit passenger, “and therefore could be considered as they did not go to India”.

Showing a rather detailed understanding of protocols attached to diplomatic passports, the website speculated that “as all the MPs have the red diplomatic passport, and any diplomat waiting as a transit passenger will be provided services from the VIP lounge, it would be very easy for anyone waiting in the lounge airport to meet senior officials of the company [without passing through immigration].”

The website threatened that “more proof awaits”, should Thasmeen and Shahid continue to deny the allegations.


President reinstates cabinet, awaits parliament’s consent

President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed has reinstated his cabinet ministers in a signing ceremony before Chief Judge of the Civil Court, Ali Sameer, following their mass resignation on June 29, in protest against what they claimed were the “scorched-earth politics” of the opposition-majority parliament.

The only cabinet reshuffle concerned Mahmoud Razee, former Minister for Transport, Civil Aviation and Communications, who was moved to the post of Minister of Economic Development. His former portfolio remains open.

“Cabinet decided to stick together on the issue and resign, to show they are not hell bent on the salaries and niceties of their positions and to prove they want to do good work for the country,” Nasheed claimed.

Following the reinstatement of his ministers, President Nasheed denied the week-long resignation was a publicity stunt for political gain.

“We had to make everyone aware of the gravity of the situation,” he said. “Cabinet members have been complaining about corruption in parliament for some while, [particularly] vote buying.”

“We were last week able to investigate the matter, and I expect police to pass the findings of the investigation to the Prosecutor General’s Office within the next 10 days,” he added.

The ‘new’ cabinet now requires parliamentary consent before resuming office. The President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair confirmed the government had been delaying the reinstatement until it received signs of cooperation from the main opposition party.

Zuhair acknowledged the strategy was “risky”, an observation confirmed by DRP Deputy Leader Umar Naseer, who claimed “there are definitely ministers that the DRP will not approve, and will have to leave the cabinet.”

Zuhair however noted that the wording of the procceedure according to the Constitution was different to the appointment of the heads of independent commissions.

“Parliament is only required to ‘consent or not to consent’ to the [whole] cabinet,” he explained. “Even if the opposition is factionalised, if we get 7-8 MPs on our side the motion will be carried.”

President Nasheed has met opposition party leaders alone in a meeting on Monday evening mediated by US Ambassador Patricia Butenis, including leader of the majority opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party, Ahmed Thasmeen Ali.

President Nasheed today said that while Thasmeen had not explicitly agreed to cooperate in the meeting, “individual DRP MPs have called me, and said they do not wish the government and parliament to remain deadlocked.”

He said the MPs had claimed they did not wish the entire institution of parliament “to be affected by the actions of individual MPs.”

Foreign embassies and international agencies have been nervously eyeing the seemingly erratic behaviour of the country’s administration, fearing a step backward following its democratic transition.

Yesterday Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa also arrived in the country, in a surprise visit on the invitation of President Nasheed to help resolve the political deadlock. He has already met with Thasmeen and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, at his residence Maafannu Aliwaage.

Thasmeen did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.

Photo: Umair Badeeu