Parliament resolution to ‘ensure election’ passed with show of hands, amid protest by pro-government MPs

A resolution submitted by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) calling on all state institutions to ensure that the second round of the presidential election is held as scheduled was passed at an extraordinary session of parliament today, amid disorderly protests by MPs of the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and Jumhooree Party (JP).

The resolution was read out by MDP MP Ali Waheed over loud protests and whistle and horn-blowing by pro-government MPs. The special sitting – held during the ongoing recess upon request of 29 MPs – was adjourned shortly thereafter by Speaker Abdulla Shahid due to disorder in the chamber caused by PPM and JP MPs gathered in front of his desk.

When the sitting resumed at 1:00pm to vote on the resolution, PPM and JP MPs were occupying the Speaker’s chair as well as the secretariat desk. The vote was called by Speaker Shahid – surrounded by security guards – standing in front of the chamber well and passed with a show of hands.

According to MP Ali Waheed, the resolution was passed with 37 votes in favour. The MPs occupying the Speaker’s space and secretariat desk appeared not to participate in the vote.

Following the adjournment of the sitting this morning, MDP MPs alleged on social media that MP Ahmed Amir – a member of the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA), which is currently backing PPM presidential candidate MP Abdulla Yameen – poured water on and damaged the parliament sound system.

The MDP resolution adopted by parliament today meanwhile states that the second round run-off scheduled for September 28 should “not be delayed for any reason” and called for all state institutions to cooperate with the Elections Commission (EC) in adherence with constitutionally-stipulated deadlines for the presidential election.

Moreover, the resolution stated that the parliament’s security services or ‘241’ committee would oversee the actions of the police and military with regard to the second round of the presidential election to be held next Saturday.

The resolution was passed while a Supreme Court case initiated by the JP seeking the annulment of the September 7 election is ongoing, with the fifth hearing taking place today.

Chaos in the chamber

Today’s sitting took place after two previous attempts yesterday was disrupted by PPM and JP MPs who blew on whistles and a vuvuzela and gathered in front of the Speaker’s desk.

Yesterday’s sitting in the morning was adjourned after Speaker Shahid’s microphone was vandalised during the disruption.

The sitting resumed at 9:00pm but could not proceed due to similar disorder caused by PPM and JP MPs protesting in front of the Speaker’s desk.

Videos meanwhile emerged on social media showing PPM MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla using obscene language against Speaker Shahid and insulting his mother during the morning session.

Following the cancellation of the 9:00pm session, the MDP-aligned Raajje TV showed video of JP MP Ilham Ahmed, also the party’s deputy leader, take out what appeared to be pliers from his pocket and cut a cable.

Local media reported that PPM MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla and JP MP Shifaq Mufeed were injured in scuffles that broke out between pro-government and MDP MPs at last night’s sitting. The former was reportedly treated at ADK hospital last night.

Despite their apparent injuries both MPs were seen actively protesting at this morning’s session.

Speaking at a press conference last night, PPM vice presidential candidate Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed contended that the MDP was attempting to “cover up irregularities of the first round” of the presidential election on through the parliament.

PPM MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur told press outside parliament today that the party believed MDP’s resolution was unlawful as it involved an ongoing court case, and suggested that the Supreme Court would rule that it was unconstitutional.

Both Dr Jameel and MP Abdul Azeez alleged that the first round of the polls was rigged in the MDP’s favour, claiming that the 95,224 votes (45.45 percent) its candidate former President Mohamed Nasheed received included fraudulent votes.

Meanwhile, in a letter to MPs published on the parliament website following the incidents last night, Speaker Shahid wrote that yesterday’s attempts to proceed with the sitting were unsuccessful due to “numerous acts in violation of the People’s Majlis’ regulations.”

“In particular, the sitting could not proceed because [computer] systems, cameras and cables in the Majlis chamber were damaged with sharp objects on a number of occasions,” the Speaker’s letter stated, expressing concern with the actions of MPs.

The Speaker added that “assault, damaging Majlis property, and intimidating Majlis staff” was “unacceptable” conduct as the parliament was an institution where disputes should be peacefully resolved through discussion and dialogue.

Meanwhile, a car in the garage of Speaker Shahid’s residence was set on fire in the early hours of Monday morning. Local media reported that the car belonged to Shahid’s brother.

Shahid told newspaper Haveeru that CCTV footage showed a man with his face covered pour petrol and set the car alight, describing it as “an act of intimidation” intended to incite political unrest.


Speaker Shahid resigns from DRP, “one can read between the lines,” claims MDP

Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid has today confirmed his resignation from the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) amid rumours of his defection to the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“As of today I have resigned from DRP. I shall continue to avail every opportunity to serve our nation and its people,” Shahid tweeted today.

However, Shahid declined to comment on speculation that he would be defecting to the MDP.

“I have left DRP as I’ve announced via Twitter.  Other than that, I have no comment today,” he said via SMS.

DRP Spokesperson Zeena Zahir confirmed to local media today that Shahid’s resignation letter was submitted to the party’s office.

Speaking at a rally in Addu City last night, MDP MP Ali Waheed claimed that Shahid would move to the former ruling party.

Meanwhile, MDP Spokesperson MP Hamid Abdul Gafoor told Minivan News that, “Shahid resigned from DRP and he has not denied a possible switch to MDP, but he has not announced such a switch officially either.”

“It is speculated and he has assisted us [the MDP] a lot, but I can’t say for sure because we are very hands off. It is his decision to make,” Hamid added.

“A meeting between Shahid and MDP may occur April 19 but it’s not confirmed,” he said. “Although everyone is being very coy, one can read between the lines.”

Local media reported recently that three other DRP MPs – MP Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed, MP Ali Azim and MP Hassan Adil – were also preparing to join the opposition.

The supposed reason for their defection, as reported in local media, was a clash among the party’s MPs.

Media reports also speculated that Shahid’s resignation and the possible defections of MPs resulted from the fallout of  a clash within the DRP parliamentary group over its wavering stand on no-confidence motions against Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

A source in the MDP alleged to Minivan News that DRP Leader MP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali brokered a “last minute deal” with the government in exchange for DRP MPs abstaining in the no-confidence votes.

Newspaper Haveeru meanwhile reported today that Shahid signed for MDP yesterday (April 14) and that an official announcement would be made at a rally planned for the weekend.


Parliament schedules first parliamentary session of 2013 for March 4

Parliament has announced that it will hold the first parliamentary session of the year on March 4.

The session will commence with the annual presidential address as per article 84 of the Constitution, where the President will highlight the state of the country, as well as measures taken to resolve the country’s difficulties.

Last year, the first Majlis opening session ended in turmoil, following rigorous protests by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs.

A parliament spokesperson said parliament has made all the necessary preparations for the session.

Despite the chaos during the opening of last year’s session, the official said no additional security arrangements are being made.

MDP Deputy Parliamentary Group Leader MP Ali Waheed told local newspaper Haveeru that the parliamentary group had not decided on whether to allow or disallow President Waheed from giving his presidential address.

“We will hold a parliamentary group meeting on March. A decision on the matter will be made on that meeting,” he said.

Waheed was not responding to calls at time of press.

Last year in March, members of MDP parliamentary group sabotaged President Mohamed Waheed’s address, claiming his ascension to power was illegitimate.

The session had to be called off after MPs blocked Speaker of Parliament, Abdulla Shahid, from entering the parliament floor. MPs barricaded the doors and removed chairs intended for the Speaker and President Waheed.

In a press conference that followed, Speaker Shahid said he was unable enter the chamber despite several attempts, and on one occasion had fallen and injured himself.

Given the political tensions at the time, Shahid said he was unable to guarantee the safety of members and had decided to proceed through negotiation, rather than force.

Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed condemned the actions of MPs and described the event as a “dark day in constitutional and parliamentary history” of the Maldives, and acknowledged the patience and determination of the security forces in handling the situation.

“Security forces [police and MNDF] handled the situation with great patience and determination. Many officers sustained various degrees of injuries while controlling the protesters,” Jameel said at the time.

However on March 19, 2012 President Waheed gave a shortened speech after several unsuccessful attempts during a heated session. The MDP MPs continued their protests, heckling Waheed and labelling him a ‘traitor’ as he gave the speech.

Several MDP MPs were injured during minor scuffles that broke out in the Majlis chamber as protesters faced expulsion for continuing to block Waheed. MDP party members alleged that the MNDF was responsible, a claim refuted by military officials.

MDP Spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy told Minivan News at the time that the party did not take pride in obstructing parliament, but had felt forced to do so due to its dissatisfaction with the nature of Waheed’s accession to the presidency.

According to parliamentary regulations, the inaugural meeting of parliament’s first session each year should be held either on the first Monday or Thursday of March.


China gifts RMB 500,000 worth of office equipment to parliament

The Chinese government has donated RMB 500,000 (US$79,945) worth of office equipment to parliament during an official visit by a high-level delegation headed by Li Changchun, China’s fifth highest-ranking leader and member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee.

According to the People’s Majlis secretariat, the delegation arrived on a two-day visit on Friday afternoon on an invitation from the Maldivian government.

The delegation visited parliament on Saturday for a meeting with Speaker Abdulla Shahid. At the meeting, the dignitaries discussed the close diplomatic ties between the nations forged 40 years ago, noting that Sino-Maldives diplomatic relations have been a model for fostering mutual respect and friendship between big and small nations.


Suspension of parliament leaves legal void for regulations on freedom of assembly, political parties

Several general regulations without parent legislation, including rules governing political parties and freedom of assembly, will cease to have legal force if an extension is not approved at a parliament sitting before midnight on Sunday, August 5.

Parliament however remains deadlocked and sittings have been suspended indefinitely amidst forced cancellations and escalating political tension.

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 were not formulated under an Act of parliament. These include regulations for 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 – 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.

The act provided for further extensions based on recommendations by parliament’s Rules Committee. The last extension was approved in December 2011 and is set to elapse on August 5, after which the regulations would become null and void.

With the People’s Majlis at a standstill and the outcome of talks between parliamentary group leaders unclear, Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim yesterday warned of an impending “legal void” should the parent act be allowed to expire.

Nazim told newspaper Haveeru that the Act included “two very important regulations” for the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA).

“This problem will become a huge issue,” the People’s Alliance (PA) leader was quoted as saying. “It is therefore of utmost importance that a Majlis sitting is held before Sunday to find a solution. If not, the country will face a big constitutional problem.”

Parliament’s Rules Committee meanwhile met last week and decided to remove six regulations from the General Regulations Act.

According to the Majlis secretariat, the committee also decided to extend the deadline for the remaining regulations to April 2013, following “consideration of legal opinion by the Attorney General’s Office.”

However, article 5(b) of the Act states that extensions must be approved by the Majlis and previous extensions were put for a vote on the floor.

Independent MP for Kulhudhufushi South, Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed, told the local daily today that failure to approve a further extension could disrupt services and raise questions of the legality of government functions.

As the regulations concerned a number of areas and would “directly affect” people from “various fields and arenas”, Nasheed said a sitting of parliament had to be held before Sunday “even for five minutes” to vote to approve an extension.

The formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has meanwhile called for President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik and leaders of political parties represented in parliament to come to the negotiating table to resolve the ongoing political dispute.

A statement released by the MDP parliamentary group yesterday contended that in the wake of the “coup d’etat” on February 7, the Maldivian state, constitution, democracy and economy had “come to a halt.”

The party would cooperate with resuming parliament sittings after a compromise agreement is reached through dialogue, the statement said.


Second consecutive parliament sitting cancelled

Parliament was cancelled for a second consecutive day after the number of MPs required for quorum failed to attend the beginning of today’s sitting.

Speaker Abdulla Shahid announced the cancellation shortly after 9.10am this morning as not enough MPs were found to be present, despite ringing the quorum bell for five minutes.

Yesterday’s sitting was meanwhile called off to allow leaders of parliamentary group leaders and independent MPs to reach an agreement on reworking the composition of standing committees.

Shahid revealed today that discussions were ongoing but a compromise has not been reached so far.

Section 101(b) of the parliamentary rules of procedure stipulates proportional representation in the committees, stating that the number of MPs each party has should be taken as the basis for determining the composition of the 11-member standing committees.

Prior to the defection of three MPs in recent months and disqualification of MP Mohamed Musthafa, the formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), with its 34 MPs, were entitled to five seats (45 percent) in each committee.

The present reconstitution of committees was triggered by Maradhoo MP Hassan Adhil leaving MDP to join the government-aligned Jumhooree Party (JP). Adhil was officially registered as a JP MP this week.

Meanwhile, on the recurring issue of loss of quorum halting parliament sittings, Speaker Shahid said today that he would consult parliamentary group leaders concerning amendments to regulations that would allow sittings to proceed with a lower quorum.


Speaker of parliament survives MDP-initiated no-confidence motion 45:25

Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid has survived the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) initiated no-confidence motion.

In the vote taken on Tuesday, 45 out of the 74 parliament members present in the sitting voted in favour of Speaker Shahid and 25 voted against him. Two members abstained.

Surprisingly, government-aligned Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed voted in favour of removing Shahid despite speaking against the motion, while MDP MPs Hassan Adil and Ahmed Rasheed voted against their party line. MDP MPs Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed and MP Ali Riza abstained. A fifth MDP MP, Zahir Adam, was absent.

During the debate over the motion, MPs from the coalition of parties supporting the government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan spoke in favour of Shahid, with a number of MPs describing the speaker as the “most able and competent” MP to be in the role.

Speaking during the debate, leader of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali stated that the motion had been forwarded amid baseless accusations and 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.

Former president Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (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 Shahid’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).

“Today is not a day  the Speaker should be upset about. Today is a day the Speaker will be victorious. [Because] the people will hear those who ‘smashed’ the DRP speak today,” he said.

“I am happy because today those who accused the Speaker of taking bribes, selling off the airport to GMR and travelling abroad at GMR’s expense, will applaud him [for his integrity],” added Waheed.

Waheed also alleged that the MDP had been “held hostage” while Shahid proceeded with the oath taking ceremony of President Waheed on February 7.

“He let just two or three MPs into the parliament chamber and forgot about the rest of the MPs,” Waheed claimed.

MP Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed during the debate stated that every time there was a conflict of opinion, it should not be taken as far as a no confidence motion.

“Shahid is not someone who had my support to become the speaker. [But] up until today during our journey with the constitution, he has contributed to a lot of things that we achieved. We don’t need to go to a confidence assessment of the speaker who focused on what we had to do up until today,” he said.

Speaking in his concluding statement at the end of the debate, Shahid stated that even if the position of the parliament speaker is seen as a ‘big seat’ and a great privilege, he had faced a very difficult environment in the last three years during his time as the speaker.

“At times I felt very comforted and proud to see the results [produced] by the parliament members. I never responded to the allegations and claims made against me in parliament. I even did not respond to such allegations and claims even outside the parliament, because I wanted to be sure I was doing my job,” he said.

He claimed that due such the allegations he had to work under circumstances that caused hurt to himself, his family and the party which he belonged to.

“But one person is elected out of 77 members to make some sacrifices. I made those sacrifices during the last three years. I have learned that as someone who makes vital decisions, I can’t please everyone,” he said.

He further stated that there were a lot of members who had opposing views to him, and that there were also members who later came to him and admitted that what they had previously believed was not right as well.

He said that the decision that the members were to make today was a historic one and that it was the first occasion in the parliamentary history of the country where the parliament was to take a no- confidence motion against a speaker.

He advised the members to not to make the issue a political one but rather a decision that they would make for the sake of the best interest of the people. He asked the MPs to think about the people who elected the members before pressing the voting button.

“Whatever way the decision [of the vote] goes, I wish all you members well. Whatever way the decision comes out, I will continue repaying the debt I owe to the constituents of Keyodhoo Constituency who elected me,” he said.

Shahid concluded his speech stating that he did not hold any hard feelings towards any member, and thanked the members who had said “beautiful things” about him.

Many MPs cheered as the Deputy Speaker announced that the motion had failed to get the required number of votes to oust Shahid.

MDP Response

Speaking to Minivan News after the vote, MDP Spokesperson MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said the MDP  parliamentary group had made a decision to take the no confidence motion against the speaker even before the transfer of power on February 7, but had waited for the right moment.

Ghafoor said that one reason for the motion was to assess the current political situation following the emergence of the PPM.

“Our argument is that a political party by the name of PPM has been formed. We wanted to assess the strength of the opposition coalition,” he said.

Ghafoor admitted that for the time being, the coalition of the political parties supporting the government seemed to be united as was seen from the vote, but questioned how long  they would work together.

He said it is inevitable that the coalition would break apart in the near future because of leadership tensions, raising doubts as to whether political figures within the coalition could work together for a longer period.

Asked whether the fact that MDP got 25 votes when the party had 30 MPs meant that there were internal conflicts within the party, Ghafoor said that it did not represent an internal conflict but just “a difference of opinion”.

“Our experience is that we lost four votes today. Two of our MPs abstained from the vote while MP Ahmed Rasheed and MP Hassan Adil voted with the opposition. MP Zahir Adam was absent today,” he said.

Ghafoor further stated that the parliament was a place of discussion and votes but on February 7, the transfer of power did not take place like that. He also said that the vote reflected that the majority of the parliament did not object to the coup.

“While the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) has raised doubts over the transfer of power on February 7, today we saw  that despite those doubts, the majority of the parliament voted in favour of a coup,” he said.

Ghafoor said that despite the no-confidence vote not succeeding, the MDP did not view it as a defeat but rather an indication of how the political culture in the country had progressed.

After deciding in April to forward the no-confidence motion, the MDP stated that motion against Shahid concerned allegations that he had been making decisions relating to significant parliamentary issues without discussing them with various political parties.

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 to his personal benefit.


MDP looks to work within Majlis to secure early elections

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has said it will now begin working through the Majlis to achieve early presidential elections, after President Mohamed Waheed Hassan succeeded in inaugrating the parliament today.

MDP MPs heckled Waheed, preventing him from delivering the constitutionally-mandated presidential address on two occasions, claiming he had come to power through a coup d’état.

Waheed succeeded in addressing parliament only on his third attempt, amid MDP MPs continued shouts of “Traitor” and obstruction of Waheed’s face with a banner condemning him as a “Coup Boss.”

Now that Majlis has opened for the year, the MDP will work within and outside the Majlis to obtain a date for elections, MDP Spokesperson and Malé MP Imthiyaz Fahmy said.

“But I don’t think it will be possible through the Majlis,” Fahmy said. “A lot of MPs in the parliament supported the coup.”

The MDP said that it did not take pride in attempts by its MPs to obstruct the Majlis opening, but Fahmy said he felt they had been left little choice due to the party’s concerns over Waheed’s legitimacy.

“We do not take pride in such actions. But as a coup-sponsored leader, we believe his presence violates the integrity of the parliament,” Fahmy said.

Fahmy said the parliamentary group had given the Speaker the opportunity to inaugurate the Majlis, but “started protesting only when Baagee [ translated as traitor] Waheed entered Majlis.”

Fahmy also said that the MDP does not sanction violence.

Clashes nonetheless broke out between police and MDP protestors demonstrating a few streets away from the Majlis building. Over 60 were arrested. Police used tear gas and, according to some eye witness accounts, rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Police are presently unable to confirm to Minivan News whether rubber bullets had indeed been used.

“Supporters of the current government or even police themselves may have started violence in order to attack the protestors,” Fahmy claimed.

The MDP had been organizing peaceful protests at Raalhugandu (Surf Point) for over a month. “But we haven’t been violent. We are calling for elections. Not for a violence or a coup,” Fahmy said.

The MDP alleges the controversial February 7 resignation of former president Mohamed Nasheed was a coup d’état, and has called for early general election. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) has supported the call.

Monday’s parliamentary sitting saw Speaker Abdulla Shahid deploy the Maldives National Defense Forces (MNDF) in an attempt to restore order to the chamber. Scuffles broke out between MDP MPs and MNDF personnel, and two sustained injuries, as the MNDF tried to remove protesting MPs.

In the chaotic atmosphere of today’s Majlis session, President Waheed said he would honour early elections calls backed by the MDP, as well as bodies including the EU and Commonwealth, if such as move was “required”.

Waheed pledged via a statement after giving his speech to bring together all political leaders to discuss constitutional amendments required for fresh elections.

“This is the time for all of us to work together in one spirit, the time to bring political differences to the discussion table in order to formulate solutions,” claimed the president. “I fully assure you that I will not order anyone to act against the Constitution or laws of this country”.


President returns thalassemia bill for reconsideration

President Mohamed Nasheed has vetoed legislation on thalassemia control passed by parliament last month and returned the bill for reconsideration.

According to the President’s Office, the Attorney General identified legal issues in the enactment of the law and recommended amendments to allow thalassemia patients to be covered under the National Health Insurance Scheme Act.

President Nasheed sent a letter to Speaker Abdulla Shahid containing the Attorney General’s legal advice and issues identified for amendment.

The President however ratified the Maldives Civil Aviation Authority bill passed by parliament on December 27. The new institution will be tasked with regulating domestic air travel and establish mechanisms to ensure safety in the air.

The Civil Aviation Authority becomes an independent entity outside the civil service with legal status and powers to enforce the Act. While a cabinet minister is to oversee the authority, its five-member board of directors would be appointed by the President.