Parliament impeaches Vice President Dr Jameel in absentia

The parliament has impeached Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel with overwhelming multi-party support today, less than two years after the current administration took office in November 2013.

Jameel was removed from office with 78 votes in favour and two against.

The impeachment process was initiated by the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives-Maldives Development Alliance (PPM-MDA) coalition, which controls 48 seats in the 85-member house. A two-thirds majority or 57 votes of the 85-member house was required to remove the vice president.

MPs of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) also voted in favour of the motion. Independent MPs Ahmed Mahloof and Hussain Areef cast dissenting votes while Adhaalath Party MP Anara Naeem did not participate in the vote.

Jameel is currently in London and did not return to answer charges at the parliament. In a 40-minute verbal statement released online this morning, Jameel said he was sidelined four months after the presidential election and dismissed the charges in the impeachment motion.

The motion accused Jameel of incompetence, dereliction of duty, links with the opposition, failure to defend the government, and excessive expenditure from the state budget.

The main opposition MDP parliamentary group had issued a three-line whip last night to vote in favour of the impeachment motion.

Opposition MPs’ backing for a constitutional amendment passed last month to set an age limit of 30 to 65 years for the presidency and vice presidency was widely perceived as part of a deal in exchange for transferring imprisoned former President Mohamed Nasheed to house arrest.

During the debate on the impeachment motion, ruling PPM parliamentary group leader MP Ahmed Nihan said the vice president was in charge of the cabinet’s social council tasked with overseeing the health and education sectors, but had failed to show progress.

Pro-government MPs accused Jameel of disloyalty and plotting to depose the president while opposition MPs stressed that the ruling party was seeking to remove their own vice president.

MDP MP Eva Abdulla said the only reason for the opposition party to vote to save Jameel was the “dim hope” that he might create divisions within the government.

Jameel had obstructed the MDP’s efforts since its inception, she said, and had vowed not to hand over the presidency even if the party’s candidate won the 2013 presidential polls.

“I don’t see that an MDP member could vote to save Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed,” she said.

Several MPs meanwhile questioned the necessity of the vice president’s post and suggested amending the constitution to dissolve the post.

MDP MP Mariya Ahmed Didi observed that successive presidents have lost confidence in their deputies.

Former vice president Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik had perpetrated a “coup d’etat” with the opposition in February 2012 to assume the presidency, she said, while the current ruling party has also lost confidence in the incumbent vice president as well.

Due process

Jameel had appointed former attorney general Husnu Suood as his lawyer, but Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed informed the vice president yesterday that the lawyer could not respond to the charges on his behalf.

Maseeh said today that he had received a letter from Suood’s law firm shortly before the sitting began, but could not accept the written statement it contained as it did not bear Jameel’s signature.

Article 100(d) of the Constitution states that the vice president shall have the right to defend himself in the sittings of the People’s Majlis, both orally and in writing, and has the right to legal counsel.

JP MPs Ali Hussain and Faisal Naseem as well as some MDP MPs expressed concern with the parliament not granting Jameel the right to defend himself.

The pro-government majority in the parliament had amended the parliament’s standing orders so that an investigation by a select committee was not required before impeaching the vice president.

Ali Hussain said fast-tracking the impeachment process was against the letter and spirit of the constitution, adding that the historic impeachment vote would be remembered as a “dark day” in Maldivian history.


Vice president’s lawyer barred from impeachment proceedings

The People’s Majlis has barred vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed’s lawyer from responding to charges on his behalf before an impeachment vote at tomorrow’s parliament sitting.

Jameel is currently in London, and had appointed former attorney general Husnu Suood to read out a response on his behalf. However, in a letter addressed to Jameel today, Speaker Abdulla Maseeh said the vice president himself must be present at the sitting, according to the Constitution.

A lawyer can only accompany Jameel and provide him with legal counsel at the sitting, the letter said.

Article 100 (d) states that the vice president shall have the right to defend himself in the sittings of the People’s Majlis, both orally and in writing, and has the right to legal counsel.

MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) have accused Jameel of incompetence and disloyalty. The vice president abruptly left the Maldives within a day of parliament approving a constitutional amendment that will allow President Abdulla Yameen to replace him with the tourism minister.

A two-thirds majority or 57 votes of the 85-member house is required to remove the vice president. The motion alone gained 61 signatures.

Jameel was asked for a response in early July, but did not respond within the 14 day period. PPM MPs have previously said he refused to comply with the president’s orders to return to the Maldives and answer charges.

The pro-government majority in the parliament has since amended Majlis standing orders so that an investigation is not required before impeaching the vice president. MPs have also set just 30 minutes for the vice president to respond to charges.

Suood told Minivan News today that the 30-minute response period was insufficient. He said he had been preparing a defense based on statements made by PPM MPs in the media as the parliament is yet to inform him or Jameel of details of the charges against him.

The Majlis secretariat told Minivan News that a copy of the impeachment motion had been provided to Jameel with the letter notifying him of the 14-day notice.

The motion, obtained by Minivan News, accused Jameel of incompetence, dereliction of duty, links with the opposition and failure to defend the government. The vice president is also accused of excessive expenditure from the state budget.

“No substantial evidence has been made public. I do not believe that president Yameen’s alleged lack of confidence in vice president Jameel is sufficient grounds for impeachment,” Suood said.

PPM parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan, however, said the president’s confidence in the vice president is crucial as he is to assume the responsibilities of the president in his absence.

Nihan said PPM MPs had gathered a large amount of evidence and information regarding Jameel’s alleged incompetence for over a year.

“Projects assigned to Jameel in sectors such as education and health had been stalled for about ten months. He also attempted to divide MPs by taking some of them on trips and making statements that may affect their confidence in the president,” he said.

“We also have evidence of Jameel’s official and unofficial involvement in the opposition protest on May 1,” he added.

Some 20,000 people took to the street on May 1 over former president Mohamed Nasheed’s imprisonment. Some 200 people were arrested in violent clashes.

Jameel has denied allegations of incompetency. In an interview with the New Indian Express, he said that he had been carrying out his duty as the President Yameen had ordered him to.

Opposition politicians have meanwhile claimed President Yameen is fatally ill and wants a more loyal deputy ahead of a life threatening surgery. The government continues to deny rumors of the president’s health.

The parliament in late June passed the first amendment to the constitution with overwhelming multi-party consensus to set the new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency and vice presidency. Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb is now 33. The constitution previously stated that candidates must be 35 years of age.


Majlis amends constitution, sets new age-limits for presidency

The parliament today passed the first amendment to the constitution with overwhelming tripartisan support to set an age limit of 30 to 65 years for the presidency and the vice presidency.

A total of 78 MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives-Maldives Development Alliance (PPM-MDA) coalition and the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) voted in favour of the proposed change.

The ruling coalition is seeking to replace vice-president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, who is 33 and ineligible for the post.

The constitution states that presidential and vice presidential candidates must be 35 years of age.

Pro-government MPs have publicly accused Jameel of disloyalty and incompetence, but opposition politicians and some media outlets have claimed that President Abdulla Yameen is seeking a loyal deputy ahead of a life-threatening surgery.

Several PPM MPs have said that Adeeb will become the next vice president, but Jameel can only be replaced if he either resigns or is impeached with a two-third majority of parliament.

The revision to article 109(c) marks the first time the constitution has been changed since its adoption in August 2008. The change will take effect upon ratification by the president.

The amendment was passed with 78 votes in favour and two against. Independent MP Ahmed Mahloof and JP MP Ali Hussain cast dissenting votes.

Mahloof said in a tweet last night that he would vote against the amendment. “I respect JP and MDP’s decision,” he added.

The support of MDP and JP MPs was necessary to pass the amendment as the PPM-MDA coalition has 48 seats in the 85-member house and a three-quarters majority or 64 votes was needed to amend the constitution.

The MDP and JP parliamentary groups issued three-line whips last night for its MPs to back the amendment, prompting speculation of a deal with the government after former President Mohamed Nasheed’s house arrest was extended to eight weeks last night.

MDP parliamentary group leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has said that the main opposition party stood to gain more from backing the amendments than opposing it.

Nasheed, who was serving a 13-year prison sentence at the high-security Maafushi jail, was transferred to house arrest on Sunday. President Yameen authorised the transfer.

Nasheed’s arrest in February and subsequent conviction on terrorism charges triggered a political crisis with daily protests, mass anti-government demonstrations, and hundreds of arrests.

The 19-day terrorism trial was widely criticised over its apparent lack of due process and international pressure has been mounting on the government to release the opposition leader and other jailed “political prisoners.”

JP leader Gasim Ibrahim, who has been out of the country since late April, had urged JP MPs to vote for the amendments and announced his retirement from politics. The amendments bar the business tycoon from contesting the 2018 presidential election as he would be 66 years at the time.

The government has frozen the bank accounts of Gasim’s Villa Group and several subsidiary companies over US$90.4 million allegedly owed as unpaid rent and fines.

Two senior JP members, Ameen Ibrahim and Sobah Rasheed, are meanwhile overseas in self-imposed exile after the prosecutor general pressed terrorism charges against the pair in the wake of a mass protest on May 1.

The JP leaders along with Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla are accused of inciting violence at the 20,000-strong anti-government rally.

During today’s sitting of parliament, PPM MP Ahmed Nihan said ruling coalition MPs will not speak during the final debate on the amendments.

MDP MP Ibrahim Naseer said he backed the amendment as the party has issued a three-line whip for the vote.

The MDP has always advocated increasing opportunities for youth, he said, and lowering the age limit for presidential candidates would enable young people to reach the highest office of the state.

No other MP asked to speak during the debate.

The amendment was submitted earlier this month by MDA MP Mohamed Ismail, who said during the preliminary debate that he proposed the 65-year cap as the president should be “young, intelligent, daring, active, and energetic.”

The deal

The apparent deal between the government and opposition parties has divided opinion among opposition supporters and sparked debate on social media.

While some have condemned amending the constitution to benefit an individual and accused opposition MPs of abandoning principles, others argued the possible release of opposition politicians would justify the move.

MDP MP Fayyaz Ismail and MDP chairperson Ali Waheed defended the party’s stand, but former attorney general Husnu Suood questioned its wisdom.


JP MP Ali Hussain suggested that the opposition has capitulated while JP deputy leader Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan said the MDP and JP has made a “mockery” of supporters who came out to protest under the ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ banner.


Vice president defends Islam textbooks

Criticism of Islam textbooks from a Western perspective is “inappropriate for the education system of a 100 percent Muslim nation,” Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed said yesterday.

Jameel declared that Islamic sharia and history will be taught in Maldivian schools.

The vice president’s remarks comes after human rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) published a report saying textbooks used to teach Islam promote anti-Semitism and xenophobia, and glorify jihad or war.

The report said only the textbooks made for grade one, two and three, introduced this year, are free from xenophobic narratives.

Criticism of the Islam subject cannot be accepted as “sincere,” Jameel said.

The new school curriculum was formulated to ensure that the Maldives remains an Islamic country, he said, and special focus was given to the Islam subject.

The new Islam syllabus and textbooks will help overcome “challenges” posed by changes the Maldivian society is experiencing, he said.

Punishments prescribed in the Quran must be taught in an Islamic country, Jameel continued, and all Muslims must take pride in Islamic history.

Muslims were the “main architects” of civilisation since the time of Caliph Umar, he said.

Jameel said it is obligatory upon a Muslim people to teach children about the successes of the Islamic civilisation, the challenges it overcame, and wars waged by Muslims in self-defence.

Human rights, freedom of expression, and other fundamental rights guaranteed in the constitution must be exercised within boundaries set by Islam.

The constitution states that Sunni Islam is the state religion and that no law contrary to Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.

The vice president made the remarks in a meeting with heads of private colleges in the Maldives.

He urged the educators to “work together to maintain the Maldives’ Islamic identity.”

The MDN had said that from fourth grade onwards, “the xenophobic material gradually increases to the point where the radical outweighs the moderate.”

Two whole pages of the eleventh grade textbook were dedicated to “fruits” of jihad, claiming that the ultimate fruit of jihad is martyrdom, for which the reward in Islam is an eternity in heaven, the report read.

The textbooks describe the Ahmadiyya sect as a “plot by the British to destroy Islamic unity,” and says Muslims educated in the West, or Muslims who speak for secularism are considered co-conspirators with the West to undermine Islam.

“Due to the prevalence of these radical ideas, the text books fail to primarily instil a positive interpretation of Islam that is manifested in the [2008] Maldivian Constitution,” the report concluded.


Vice President Dr Jameel in midnight meeting with former Health Minister Dr Shakeela

Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed met former Health Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela at the latter’s residence on Thursday night (September 11), reports local media.

Opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV reported eyewitnesses as saying that Shakeela greeted the vice president upon his arrival at the Manaam building around 9pm.

With the press gathered outside, Dr Jameel reportedly left the building in his official state car around 3:10am in the early hours of Friday.

Reporters spotted the vice president and his wife in the car with bodyguards.

The Ministry of Health has been headed by Defence Minister Colonel (Retired) Ahmed Nazim after Shakeela’s renomination was rejected by the Majlis last month.

In an interview with Haveeru last week, Dr Shakeela alleged death threats and intimidation prior to her departure, suggesting that political opponents wished to remove her in order to benefit from corrupt development deals.

“When I was given the post, some people said this can’t be done by bringing in someone from far outside after we worked hard to bring this government,” she was quoted as saying.

“So from the start there were some people who were bent on showing that I was a failure.”


Vice President Dr Jameel inaugurates Hotel Asia Exhibition

Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed inaugurated the ‘Hotel Asia 2014 Exhibition and Culinary Challenge’ at the Dharubaaruge convention centre yesterday.

According to the President’s Office, Dr Jameel in his remarks at the opening ceremony “highlighted the leading role played by Hotel Asia in the Maldives and across the region, successfully organising several of the most eminent hotel fairs in the Maldives.”

Dr Jameel noted that such high-profile events encouraged growth of the tourism industry.

“Focusing on the country’s commitment to excellence in global tourism, Vice President Jameel highlighted that the government focuses on delivering a business environment conducive to the growth and development of the hospitality industry in the Maldives,” the President’s Office said.

“The Vice President also emphasised the innovativeness of Maldivian resorts, with the country being host to the world’s first underwater spa and all glass underwater restaurant.”

On the importance of eco-friendly tourism, the vice president observed that “numerous resorts in the Maldives are designed and constructed to reflect the country’s strong green-conscience and commitment to environment and social sustainability.”

Organised by Maldives Exhibition and Conference Service (MECS), almost 500 members are reportedly participating in the culinary challenge event at the exhibition, including local and foreign chefs from 60 resorts.


Preparations conclude for the start of Ramadan

Today marks the first official day of Ramadan in the Maldives following the conclusion of final preparations for the month of fasting and prayer.

After the anticipated sighting of the new crescent moon did not come on Friday as expected, the Islamic Ministry announced that Sunday (June 29) was considered to be Ramadan 1 in the Hijra year 1435.

The start of festivities also began at midnight across much of the world, with Yemen reported to be the only country to have started celebrations on Saturday.

President Abdulla Yameen has called on Maldivians to observe the period with piety, encouraging the performance of pious deeds and virtuous duties.

In a statement released by the President’s Office, Yameen noted Maldivians’ preservation of the Islamic faith, appealing to all to continue this tradition over the next 30 days.

The government’s efforts to assist with preparations were also acknowledged by Yameen, with a number of temporary and refurbished mosques having opened in recent days.

Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed was in attendance at the reopening of the Al-Furqan mosque on Friday after six years of construction and multiple delays. The mosque is reported to be the most expensive in the country’s history, at MVR21 million (US$1.3 million).

Speaking at the opening ceremony for new mosque – capable of facilitating 3000 people – Jameel urged Islamic scholars to uphold the country’s Islamic identity by presenting it in a way comprehensible to the nation’s substantial youth population.

Local media have also reported the opening of a temporary mosque in Maafannu to compensate for the recently demolished Fandiyaaru Mosque. The Maldives National Defence Force completed the mosque – with capacity for 800 people – in just 14 days, reported Sun Online.

After initial fears regarding funding, the Islamic Minsistry announced the release of MVR800,000 to Malé City Council for repairs to 22 mosques. Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has pledged to spend MVR10 million on mosque repair for Ramadan.

Additionally, President Yameen has pledged to reduce waiting times for the overburdened Malé-Hulhumalé ferry to just 10 minutes while state utilities company Fenaka is said to have pledged interrupted power supply to all islands this month.

Working times for the Maldives’ 25,000 civil servants have been reduced to the hours between 10am and 2pm after local women’s rights NGO Hope for Women had argued the previous arrangement allowed insufficient time for women’s increased domestic workload during the month.

Meanwhile, the government announced that schools would be closed for grade 9 and below throughout the month, while class times will be reduced for other age groups.

Haveeru has also reported a reduction in the price of a number of basic commodities at the local market, as well as the opening of an additional fresh market in the capital.


Government submits bill on special economic zones

A bill on establishing special economic zones (SEZ) to attract foreign investment has been submitted to parliament on behalf of the government by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan.

The SEZ bill becomes the first piece of legislation to be proposed by President Abdulla Yameen’s administration to the 18th People’s Majlis, the newly-elected PPM parliamentary group leader tweeted on Thursday (June 5).

Speaking to reporters prior to departing to China on Wednesday night (June 4) to attend the Kunming Trade Fair, Economic Minister Mohamed Saeed explained that special economic zones would be established in the north, south and other “strategic locations.”

The SEZ bill is intended to expand the economy and could “bring an end to the dependence on tourism,” he said.

In addition to ports and light industries, Saeed said financial services and bunkering facilities would be made available at the zones.

“So the result of this would be the introduction of different industries to the Maldivian economy in addition to tourism,” he said, adding that the new enterprises could be more lucrative and beneficial than tourism.

Referring to the impact on the Maldives from the 2004 tsunami and the spread of the SARS virus, Saeed stressed the importance of diversification, as the Maldivian economy was vulnerable to external shocks due to the extreme dependence on the tourism industry.

He noted that economic development and job creation was the key focus of President Yameen’s election campaign.

The government conducted “a wide research” in drafting the bill, Saeed continued, and studied the practices of countries such as Dubai, South Korea, Mauritius, Cyprus, China, and Singapore.

The bill would “completely ensure investor protection,” he asserted.

Business-friendly laws were essential for attracting investors for mega-projects planned by the government, Saeed noted, such as the ‘iHavan’ transhipment port project.

The minister also expressed confidence that parliament would pass the bill without delay.

Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed meanwhile observed that the ruling party had a clear majority in parliament with a team of young MPs committed to the government’s economic agenda.


President Yameen had declared in April that the SEZ bill would become “a landmark law” that would strengthen the country’s foreign investment regime.

“What we would like to confirm for the foreign investors who come to the Maldives is that foreign investors should feel that Maldives is your second home here,” Yameen had said at a function in Hulhumale’.

The special economic zones would be “likened to cities in Dubai or the Emirates” and “the [business] environment we have in Singapore.”

The new law would enable investors to have “freeholds” in the country and allow investors “to engage in really, really long gestative projects,” Yameen said.

“We are embarking on an era of growth,” he said.

Other economic bills in the government’s legislative agenda include bills on foreign investment, insurance, consumer protection, corporate social responsibility and small claims as well as amendments to the Maldives Monetary Authority Act and the Pensions Act.


VP says government work unaffected by coalition split as JP ministers suspended

The breakup of the Progressive Coalition will not affect the work of the government, insists Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed following Jumhooree Party’s (JP) exit from the group.

Jameel’s comments to local media come as the President’s Office confirmed Transport Minister Ameen Ibrahim and two of his junior ministers – all JP members – had been asked to ‘stay at home’.

After coalition partner Gasim Ibrahim chose to stand – albeit unsuccessfully – for the Majlis speaker’s position yesterday, the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) released a statement officially ending the coalition agreement.

“In accordance with the unanimous decision of the PPM council at an emergency meeting on the night of May 26, 2014, we announce that the coalition agreement made between this party and the Jumhooree Party has been brought to an end by the Jumhooree Party as of today,” read the statement.

The party had previously threatened to dissolve the pact should JP leader Gasim stand in competition for the post.

Additionally, in response to Gasim’s complaints that the PPM had breached the coalition agreement by not providing his party with only 29 of the 40-90 promised appointments, President Abdulla Yameen claimed many of its nominees had been unqualified.

Tourism Minister and head of the cabinet’s economic council Ahmed Adeeb earlier this week expressed his intention to ask Yameen to replace JP’s political appointees in the event of a split.

The two junior ministers suspended today have been named by local media as State Minister for Transport Ahmed Zubair and Deputy Minister of Transport Ikram Hassan.

President’s Office spokesman Ibrahim Muaz told local media that the suspensions were in relation to the coalition split, and will remain in place until the matter is resolved.

Balance of power

While the PPM’s Abdulla Maseeh won the vote at the opening of yesterday’s 18th People’s Majlis, the narrow victory appeared to suggest the impact the split will have on the government.

“Gasim holds the balance of power – I think this will destabilise the government seriously,” said opposition Maldivian Democratic Party Spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor today. “We suspect it won’t last for five years.”

Hamid pointed to his party’s experience of governance, following its own short-lived coalition with Gasim’ JP in 2008. After concerted anti-government pressure and months of street demonstrations, the MDP government fell in early 2012.

The PPM currently controls 44 percent of the Majlis – 37 seats – while the opposition MDP hold 29 percent – 25 seats. The JP controls 18 percent of the house – 15 seats, with the Adhaalath’s sole representative and two independents making up the 85-seat legislature.

PPM MP Maseeh received 43 votes to secure the speaker’s chair yesterday, with Gasim receiving the support of 39 members.

The fine balance left in the wake of the coalition split was also evident in the election of MDP MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik – who took the deputy speaker’s position with 42 votes to his PPM opponent’s 41.

In yesterday evening’s statement, the PPM cited the JP’s co-operation with the MDP in Moosa’s election as further cause for the coalition split – depicting the dissolution of the agreement as the JP’s decision.

Speaking with local media, Vice President Jameel said that the JP was going against the citizen’s wishes by working with MDP – who last month endorsed Gasim’s candidacy for speaker.

Jameel today argued that unity against the MDP had been the basis of the coalition.

The parties entered a formal coalition agreement ahead of last year’s presidential election run-off between the MDP’s Mohamed Nasheed and PPM’s Yameen after Gasim has placed third.

Gasim’s endorsement of Yameen proved to be crucial in the PPM-led coalition’s narrow victory in the second round of November’s presidential polls.

“From JP leader Gasim to everyone in all levels, were working against the MDP’s actions. For example, the GMR issue and the detention of Judge Abdulla. Are they now saying all of that is fine? I am saying this because [Gasim] has spoken of how it is easy for the two of them [Gasim and Nasheed] to work together,” said Jameel.

“It is the citizens who suffer the most when JP acts against the spirit and aim of the coalition. It is now questionable if JP can work with any party in a coalition,” said Jameel, before telling local media to expect further developments in the coming week.