Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Jun 26, 2023
The current political situation in Maldives seems to have descended into further chaos as the Parliament and the EC face a deadlock
Maldives: Nasheed quits MDP The Maldivian presidential poll, scheduled for September, may be in jeopardy after Speaker Mohammed Nasheed, facing a no-trust motion, declined to extend the Parliament session, to elect new members for the Election Commission (EC), which too is in a deadlock,  3-2 against chairman Fuad Taqfeeq. It is now upto President Ibrahim Solih, or the Supreme Court (if moved), or both, to break the twin deadlocks, especially after Nasheed formally quit the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to join 13 loyalist MPs in the 87-member House, who floated a new party weeks earlier, with the name, ‘The Democrats’. With the exit of Nasheed and one more MDP parliamentarian, their numbers have since gone up to 15 in the 87-member House.
The Maldivian presidential poll, scheduled for September, may be in jeopardy after Speaker Mohammed Nasheed, facing a no-trust motion, declined to extend the Parliament session, to elect new members for the Election Commission.
Nasheed was the MDP’s longest-serving president and is only the second one to quit a political party that he had worked to found, after seemingly failing in his primary target of ‘taking back control’ from within. Party chairman and Economic Development Minister Fayyaz Ismail said that with Nasheed’s exit, the ‘party can now move forward’. As may be recalled, President for the longest tenure of 30 years (1978-2008), Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, whom Nasheed had defeated in the nation’s first multi-party democracy elections in 2008, quit the Dhivehi Rayyathunge Party (DRP) first and lost the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), which too he had floated, to estranged half-brother Abdulla Yameen, then President, following a court ruling. Gayoom’s third party in 10 years, the Maumoon Reform Movement (MRM)—an erstwhile MDP ally whose lone junior minister was sacked by President Solih after others had crossed over to his camp—has since lost the lower court case against the EC for de-registering the party for not maintaining the mandatory minimum of 3,000 members. The EC is also tied to another controversy of its own after four of five members who were present voted 2:2, to delay and not deny the registration of the new party ‘The Democrats’. It refused to fast-track the membership verification process by foregoing the three-month period otherwise available after party officials staged a sit-in until a decision was given.

Reconstituting the committees

The parliamentary crisis began with the MDP moving a no-trust motion against Deputy Speaker Eva Abdulla, after she had quit the party, and followed it up weeks later with one against Speaker Nasheed, too, despite him continuing as the party chief. Both came after the Opposition, including the ‘Nasheed MPs’, moved no-trust motions against Attorney-General Ibrahim Riffath and Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid, for their alleged role in the ‘Chagos issue’, for palming off Maldivian maritime territory to Mauritius, ahead of the UNCLOS-ITLOS ruled on the decades-old issue, recently. With the MDP claiming issue-based support of 54-60 MPs, the Opposition motions were expected to fail, and the MDP initiatives were bound to succeed. As Speaker, Nasheed added two twists when he trust vote against him, as sought by Majority Leader Mohamed Aslam, and also took up the ‘Eva vote’ until the House committees were re-constituted to reflect the new realities, which again Aslam contested. After his old-timer nominee Hassan Afeef completed the mandatory upper limit of chairing three consecutive sittings in the absence of the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, Nasheed retracted his recusation on the last day of the current session, when Parliament debated new norms for House committee representation—with voting expected only in the next session, generally meeting in mid-August. He ruled that it was the Speaker’s prerogative when Majority Leader Mohamed Aslam, supported by other MDP numbers, pressed for extending the session to transact urgent business, starting with committee reconstitution, for the EC too could be re-constituted.

A Catch-22 situation

With the parliamentary majority stacked against him, Nasheed has since decided to vacate the official residence, designated under the law for security reasons, following a bomb attack on 6 May 2021—possibly without quitting as Speaker. The MDP parliamentary group has since resolved to demand an ‘emergency session’ of Parliament, and Majority Leader Aslam has asserted that there was no retraction of the no-trust motions against Nasheed and Eva. The President’s Office has declared that the ‘Majlis should run even if it meant Nasheed quitting’. How it could be done without the nod of Nasheed, who technically continues to be the Speaker remains to be seen—a situation which the founding fathers had not imagined.
It is a classic Catch-22 situation. The dead-locked crises in Parliament and the EC are interlinked and the latter cannot be expected to produce a unanimous response if and when the Supreme Court is moved.
It is a classic Catch-22 situation. The dead-locked crises in Parliament and the EC are interlinked and the latter cannot be expected to produce a unanimous response if and when the Supreme Court is moved. The one, if not the only, foreseeable way is for President Solih to initiate early political moves for resolving the crises and stall them from escalating further. This in turn would help in the presidential poll to be formally notified and for nominations to open on 23 July as scheduled with two rounds of polling fixed for 9 and 30 September—the latter one only if no one crosses the halfway mark in the first round.

Call for MNDF

In the midst of it all, the Opposition PPM-PNC combine leaders, as part of their continuing diplomatic efforts, called on Canadian High Commissioner Eric Walsh, and briefed him on the current political situation. In a tweet, they complained that they were not able to enter Parliament, as it was locked, and called upon the nation’s armed forces to ‘come out and control the country’. Elsewhere on the same day and in a separate but relevant appeal, President Solih, addressing the 131st-anniversary celebrations of the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF), urged them to ‘safeguard national unity and enhance security’. In a veiled reference to the Yameen camp’s ‘India Out’ campaign that has since petered out or called off, and also the joint Oppositon’s reservations to the ‘maritime border issue’ involving Mauritius, he said, “Preservation of independence and sovereignty relies on nurturing diplomatic ties with other nations.” The Opposition also plans to summon the President to the Parliament to seek clarifications on the Mauritius border dispute. The legal defence of their jailed presidential nominee, Yameen, argued before the High Court that the prosecution had ‘acted in bad faith’ and ‘selectively used’ Yameen’s police part-statement—he refused to cooperate after a time—against him in a case where the lower court had sentenced him to 11 years in prison, leading to his electoral disqualification. The High Court, however, declined to fast-track the hearing to end all arguments before the commencement of the nine-day Bakrid holidays. Incidentally, a lower court too is seized another case of the kind, where a sentence of conviction before nomination closes, if it came to that, could nullify any possible benefits accruing to him in the High Court. In 2021, the Supreme Court had over-turned lower court verdicts and acquitted Yameen in the first of three corruption and money-laundering cases from his presidential years (2013-18). For Yameen to be able to file the nomination for the presidential poll, he should get an acquittal from the High Court and should not get a conviction from the trial court, before the nominations close. After reportedly declining to meet them twice, President Solih has since said that Yameen’s PPM-PNC combine leaders should ‘approach the authorities’ with their complaints of prison-torture of Yameen, and also about ‘excessive use of force’ by the police to control Opposition protests, that too on ‘government orders’. If they have a backup plan to nominate an alternative candidate if Yameen does not regain his rights in time, his PPM-PNC combine has discouraged an open discourse by ticking off a Male Municipal Council member, who quit the PPM, after naming the Mayor and Islamic scholar, Mohamed Muizzu, as a possibility. Yet, they declared that the Opposition was ‘readying to assume power’ and said that the first action of a PPM government would be to ‘seize the passports of thieves who have ruined the country’. In between, Col Mohamed Nazim (retd), one of the four candidates in the fray thus far, including Yameen, has described as a ‘threat’, the constitutionally-mandated Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) decision to probe him for his alleged role in the multi-million dollar ‘tourism promotion scam’ when he was Yameen’s Defence Minister before being sacked and jailed. Jumhooree Party (JP) founder and nominee Gasim Ibrahim and an independent, Umar Naseer, who was Yameen’s Home Minister, both have declared their decision to stay on, independent of support from other parties. Though ‘The Democrats’, at birth, had declared their intention to field a presidential candidate, Nasheed, since quitting the MDP, has yet not confirmed if he would be contesting himself. Given the EC’s existing denial to register ‘The Democrats’ at present, it also remains to be seen if they will contest as Independents. Given the current crises and complexities, there is also an unsaid apprehension about a possible constitutional crisis, as happened during the 2013 presidential polls, when the Supreme Court and the EC were tied against each other. In the current milieu, the contestants may be different, but the basic issues may not be vastly so.
Sathiya Moorthy is a Chennai-based policy analyst and political commentator
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