Former Attorney General Husnu Suood, who resigned yesterday together with the rest of President Nasheed’s cabinet in protest against the supposed “scorched earth” politics of opposition MPs, has confirmed that the government has arrested two MPs on charges of corruption relating to vote buying in parliament.
When asked if the government has solid evidence to substantiate these allegations, Suood replied that “there are reasons to believe that some corrupt activities have taken place.”
Suood said “there are statements given by certain individuals that these activities have taken place. Based on those statements, and complaints, there are reasons to believe that corrupt activities have taken place. On that basis the government is proceeding.”
Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim, also the MP of Maamigili, and leader of the People’s Alliance (PA) Abdulla Yaameen, the MP for Mulaku, were arrested last night.
“If there is an allegation [of bribery] it could lead to loss of confidence in a state institution,” Suood said on TVM last night. “Selling votes for money is something the president has to investigate. Otherwise there will be no respect for the Majlis (parliament),” he said.
Suood said he was confident the government’s evidence would stand up to scrutiny: “I think the evidence will stand,” he said.
Gasim and Yameen appeared at the high court today following a police appeal against the conditions of the warrant issued last night by the criminal court.
Speaking at a press conference this morning at the President’s Office, Suood expressed strong concern at the amendments to the Financial Bill proposed by the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), highlighting article 7: “Any state asset should be given, sold or leased or any subsidy or aid to any person only under legislation approved by the parliament”, and article 10(a): “any aid given by the state to any persons or to a specific person should only be given under legislation approved by the parliament.”
If the Financial Bill was ratified and parliament gained the authority to dictate aid and subsidies, “it will [jeopardise] all sorts of subsidies and aid the government provides to people, except for the elderly allowance,” Suood claimed.
Former Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Ibrahim Didi said that the bill would also jeapordise subsidies for fisherman, which was ”unacceptable.”
”We do not want salaries from the people if we cannot provide the services we want to provide them.” said Dr Didi.
Suood added that the government could not resort to the Supreme Court to overturn parliamentary rulings, “because we filed two cases in the Supreme Court, and they ruled it was not the position of the government to file cases in the Supreme Court.”
”I do not believe that the Supreme Court can rule fairly.”
State institutions had failed, Suood said, senior officials of the judiciary were “irresponsible”, and the independent commissions were operating like “small governments.”
“All of this has brought the government to a standstill,” he said.
Parliament deadlocks over detained MPs
Meanwhile, parliament this morning was also brought to a standstill after DRP MPs insisted that parliament could not go ahead without the presence of the two arrested MPs, as legally mandated.
Speaker Abdullah Shahid read out a letter to parliament from Police Commissioner Ahmed Faseeh, which stated that the MPs could not be released for the sitting or to attend committee meetings as required by parliamentary rules due to “security concerns”.
DRP MP Ali Waheed said there was “no rule of law” remaining in the country after police refused to comply with the court order to bring the MPs before court.
That court order was issued after midnight after a request by former Attorney General Azima Shukoor, lawyer representing the two opposition leaders.
The Attorney General’s Office has appealed the court order at the High Court this morning.
Speaker Shahid was unable to finish reading the as the chamber erupted in acrimonious arguments between MPs of the opposing parties. He briefly appealed to Ali Waheed and DRP MP Ahmed Nihan to sit down, before calling the sitting to a halt.
The mood in parliament today was “very nervous,” said Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed.
“I don’t think the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and DRP were even able to talk to each other. I was very frustrated that people we are normally quite jovial with – such as [MDP MPs] Mariya Didi and Eva Abdulla – are not even able to make eye contact.”
He said the letter from Commissioner Faseeh and a second from the Chief of Defense had angered the opposition MPs, who argued that the Chief of Defense “should not be dictating when parliament should be held – it is not his business and we are not under ministerial rule.”
On the subject of the vote-buying allegations against MPs Yameen and Gasim, Nasheed said he did not know “why the Attorney General is singling them out with allegations of vote buying.”
Nasheed said many parliamentarians were aware of past discussions concerning situations where “independent MPs had been approached by sources related to the government in a bid to increase their strength and try to gain a majority.”
He confirmed that parliament has a standing order preventing an MP from being arrested “while a no confidence motion is in place against the President, the Vice President, a cabinet member, head of an independent institution or the Speaker. But the arrests happened after cabinet has resigned, cancelling the no-confidence motion,” he explained.
“I think there is a political strategy behind all this – it is to direct attention away from GMR-Malaysia Airport Holdings [signing to manage] Male’ International Airport, an issue of serious national concern,” Nasheed suggested.
“I have also heard from a highly reliable source that the president has been considering a cabinet reshuffle and will use this opportunity to appoint new ministers, and remove non-MDP cabinet ministers in the new arrangement. That, and threats and intimidation.”
Nasheed said he hoped parliament would be able to resume next week when the matter of Gasim and Yameen’s detention had been resolved.
“Much will depend on whether the court rules for the detention [of Gasim and Yameen] be extended,” he said.
“I think this is a serious impasse caused by an overly dramatic and excessive reaction from the cabinet,” Nasheed said.
“It is a very sad development. If Nasheed felt so strongly about the Financial Bill, he could have returned it to parliament and his party could have prevented it from being passed. The President has the power to veto bills, and parliament could have tried to override his veto.
If that had happened, the President could have challenged it in a court of law. For cabinet to resign saying the bill is unconstitutional is unreasonable.
While Gasim and Yameen were taken before the criminal court last night, the MDP Council resolved to to terminate its coalition agreement with Gasim’s Jumhooree Party.
The MDP Council claimed that “Gasim Ibrahim, without cooperating with the government, has prioritised his personal agenda over national agenda and has collaborated with the opposition, and has appeared in the media [with the intention] of objecting to the implementation of the national agenda,” according to newspaper Miadhu.
Sporadic and small-scale protests against the detention of Gasim and Yameen broke out last night across the city, but rain, roadblocks and the World Cup kept the crowds thinned.
This morning police dispersed a group of protesters who had gathered in a secure zone outside parliament, clutching hastily-written signs with slogans such as ‘Save us from the robbers’.
This afternoon there were reports of MDP-led protests against parliament near the tourist street of Chandanee Magu, the crowd including a number of former ministers as MPs Eva Abdulla and ‘Reeko’ Moosa. The opposition is reportedly planning a protest later this evening.