Maldives urged to restore parliament’s independence

Maldives parliamentary speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed (Photo courtesy: Maldives Parliament)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka:  Outside governments on Wednesday asked the Maldives to restore its legislature’s independence, days after the opposition said parliament was locked down on orders from the president in an attempt to prevent a vote to impeach the parliamentary speaker.

Sri Lanka-based embassies from the U.S., Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland, as well as the EU delegation to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, said in a statement that they were “alarmed by the recent incidents in Maldives,” which “seriously damage and undermine democracy.”

The Maldives’ opposition accused members of the armed forces of padlocking the gates of parliament on Monday on orders from President Yameen Abdul Gayoom to prevent a vote on a no-confidence motion against Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed. It said the motion had support from 45 lawmakers in the 85-member house, and that it would have challenged the president’s power had it succeeded.

The government, however, said no voting had been scheduled for Monday. It said forces were called in to strengthen security in the parliament building because some parties were calling for protests nearby.

Some opposition lawmakers broke through the barriers, but they were forcibly thrown out by military troops and police officers, some of whom used pepper spray.

The foreign embassies said in their statement that the closure of parliament and the harassment and intimidation of lawmakers were “deeply troubling.” They called on the Maldives’ government to “respect fundamental freedom.”

Yameen has been accused of rolling back democratic gains the Maldives has made since becoming a multiparty democracy in 2008. His control over parliament is threatened by an agreement reached this year between former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom — a half brother of the current president — and the Maldives’ first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed.

A similar opposition bid to oust the speaker was defeated in March with no dissenting votes after opposition lawmakers were either evicted or walked out from the vote following a dispute over problems with the electronic voting system.

The opposition coalition’s plan to wrest the parliamentary majority was aimed at reforming the judiciary, elections commission and other bodies perceived as being partial toward Yameen.

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