Opinion Politics

India Caught Off Guard as Maldives Faces Turmoil Again

MPs held by police

Maldives’ politics is in a tailspin. The situation threatens to get out of hand in the coming weeks, if not days, and will pose yet another challenge for India, considering that political instability in this strategically important Indian Ocean country will bode ill for New Delhi.

On 24 July, the day when the Opposition-sponsored no-confidence motion against Maldivian Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed was scheduled to come up, unprecedented scenes unfolded as Major General Ahmed Shiyam, the chief of the defence forces, ordered his troops to seal off and then storm the Parliament.

MPs dragged out
Troops and police dragged MPs out of the Maldivian Parliament, injuring a number of them who were photographed sprawled outside the building’s gates. (Photo: Rajeev Sharma/ The Quint)

No-Confidence Motion Turns Ugly

Troops and police dragged MPs out of Parliament, injuring a number of them who were photographed sprawled outside the building’s gates. The result: the no-confidence motion has now gone for a toss and nobody has any idea when the motion will come up again, or whether it will come up at all.

This is what the beleaguered President Abdullah Yameen wanted. The Opposition smells blood in its four-year-long political fight against Yameen and is upbeat about the outcome of this protracted struggle.

The no-confidence motion against the speaker is a veritable semi-final. The Opposition’s final match is against Yameen himself. The Maldivian presidential elections are due in about a year’s time.

Threat to Majority Enjoyed by Abdulla Yameen

The Maldivian Opposition’s game plan is simple. It is slowly but systematically nibbling into Yameen’s electoral strength in the Majlis or Parliament.

If they succeed in removing Maseeh Mohamed, a Yameen acolyte, then they will not only win the battle of minds but also score an important political point as the new Speaker, their appointee, will not add road blocks whenever more ruling-side MPs defect to the Opposition camp.

If you go by the Opposition’s figures, then the Yameen regime has already been reduced to a minority. In the 85-member Majlis, the Opposition officially claims to have the support of 45 MPs. But given the nature of the cloak-and-dagger political activities that are currently underway in Maldives, the Opposition ranks may have already swelled to 50 or even 51 MPs.

The Majlis is the strongest institution in Maldives. It’s strange but true that an MP who is quite powerful draws a higher pay than a cabinet minister even.

The Majlis is so powerful that it can impeach the speaker, or the deputy speaker, or any other officer of the government – backed by a simple majority. Even the president can be impeached provided the motion is carried through with two-thirds majority.

Army stormed parliament
Army stormed the Parliament on 24 July when the Opposition-sponsored no-confidence motion was scheduled to come up. (Photo: Rajeev Sharma/ The Quint)

Army Storms the Parliament

As of now, the Maldivian Opposition enjoys enough numerical strength to remove the speaker.

The real battle will begin when the Opposition trains its guns on the president for which they need a minimum strength of 57 MPs. This is the Opposition’s ultimate goal, making the Yameen regime jittery.

Given the importance of the Majlis, the world should take note of the unprecedented storming of Parliament by the military and its eventual lockdown, despite the laughable reason given by the Yameen government that it was necessary to secure the institution, as Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is the chief guest for the Maldivian independence day ceremony.

Maldives’ former Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem said that “the army chief acted illegally and without a court warrant.”

We are concerned that the security forces may overrun other institutions of state. The Parliament is very powerful in Maldives and has the ability to impeach the president and his ministers, and select officials for institutions such as the Elections Commission. Maldives under President Yameen is descending into violence and chaos. India should use its power to ensure that the institutions of state, such as the parliament, are able to function properly, otherwise I fear further instability.

Ahmed Naseem, Maldives Foreign Minister

Demands by the Opposition

On his part, Ibrahim Shareef, an Opposition MP belonging to the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), said:

Soldiers in riot gear entered Parliament, for the first time in the history of our country, to remove opposition MPs. The Opposition MPs went there to urge the Secretary General to hold a parliamentary session so that we can vote on the no-confidence motion to remove the Speaker, as stipulated in the rules of procedure.

“Unfortunately police and soldiers in riot gear prevented us from meeting the Secretary General or even the Speaker or his deputy. This is a move unprecedented in the history of our Parliament. This doesn’t mean the Opposition is prepared to give up easily. The struggle to uphold the constitution and the sanctity of Parliament will continue,” Shareef said, adding, “the opposition is energised by the widespread support of the ordinary people.”

We are calling for the people to come out in large numbers to protest against the government’s unconstitutional actions. The Opposition doesn’t believe that Maseeh is the Speaker anymore. We don’t accept that the government should deploy the security forces to prevent opposition MPs from entering parliament house under any pretext or for any reason. There is going to be continuous protests in the coming days and weeks until we achieve our objective of removing Maseeh as Speaker.

Ibrahim Shareef, MP, Maldivian Democratic Party

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