The military acted upon request to forcibly remove opposition lawmakers from the Majlis building, the parliament secretariat has said, insisting that the unprecedented action Monday afternoon was within legal bounds.
“Upon receiving credible reports that some Honourable Members and political activists had broken through a police cordon, scaled the perimeter walls of the Majlis and engaged in unconstitutional and unlawful acts in the confines of the People’s Majlis, security forces were instructed to ensure that law and order was restored and additional measures taken to guard against further unlawful acts in the Majlis,” reads a statement issued last night.
The Maldives National Defence Force was asked to “beef up security in and around the Majlis” in response to the opposition’s call for direct action to back MPs as they sought to force a vote to impeach Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed.
The secretariat stressed that MPs were notified last week that the no-confidence motion has been “adjudged as invalid” and that no sittings or committee meetings would take place until July 31 due to “enhanced security arrangements in the capital for the Independence Day festivities”.
The no-confidence motion was thrown out after four ex-ruling party lawmakers were contentiously deemed to have been stripped of their seats as a result of an anti-defection ruling from the Supreme Court.
But the four-party opposition alliance contended that the motion must be put to a vote after the constitutionally-mandated 14-day notice period and called on supporters to take to the streets.
Opposition lawmakers have also disputed the legitimacy of the unsigned Majlis statement after Secretary General Ahmed Mohamed told local media that it was released without his knowledge.
The secretary-general, who is in charge of the secretariat, previously told the Maldives Independent that he was informed by the MNDF that only staff could enter the premises.
According to MP Ahmed Mahloof, the security request from the secretariat to the MNDF was made by an official in charge of the foreign relations department.
Early on Monday morning, soldiers padlocked the gates of the parliament building as riot police barricaded surrounding roads and pushed back protesters gathered near the Maldivian Democratic Party office.
The police later put out a statement saying that the MPs who “broke into the restricted area around the parliament building cordoned off by police lines” are under investigation for obstruction of duty.
“The parliament building was restricted access by the Government of the Maldives as the parliament session for 24 July 2017 was cancelled,” the police said in a statement.
The MNDF sought help from the police to “clear out individuals who forcefully entered the parliament building,” it added.
But the police initially said Specialist Operations officers entered the compound to remove individuals whom the parliament had declared were no longer MPs.
MPs Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim and Mohamed Ameeth were taken into custody after they were dragged out of the Majlis building. The pair was released hours later but Waheed was arrested again with a court warrant late on Monday night.
The Elections Commission decided last week that Waheed and Ameeth, along with MPs Abdul Latheef Mohamed and Saud Hussain, have lost their seats after informing the parliament secretariat of their expulsion from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives.
The move came after the Supreme Court ruled that MPs who were elected on political party tickets will lose their seats once the electoral body notifies parliament that they have either left their party, been expelled, or switched parties.
According to the EC, MPs Abdulla Sinan and Ilham Ahmed, who left the PPM after signing the no-confidence motion, have also been disqualified.
However, the Supreme Court has since decided to hear appeals from four of the disqualified lawmakers, three of whom were expelled from the PPM long before the Attorney General sought the anti-defection ruling.
As the opposition submitted the no-confidence motion with 45 signatures, Maseeh’s impeachment would have sealed the loss of President Abdulla Yameen’s previously unassailable majority in the 85-member house.
The expulsion of the opposition MPs by police officers and soldiers in riot gear was meanwhile widely reported in the international media, prompting the president’s office to decry “false claims” of a military takeover of parliament.
Citing the parliament secretariat’s statement, the president’s office reiterated that the MNDF took measures to “ensure the security and safety of the premises” in response to the opposition’s plans to stage a protest.
“The Government also urges all media outlets to responsibly verify information before disseminating it to the public,” the president’s office said.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union, an organisation of national legislatures, meanwhile expressed concern over opposition lawmakers being “subjected to a campaign of intimidation and coercion in the lead-up to a vote of no-confidence against the Speaker of the People’s Majlis” referring to the prosecution of three prominent opposition MPs as well as the Elections Commission stripping six lawmakers of their seats, “a decision with apparently no legal basis.”
“The IPU is deeply worried that these actions are seemingly intended to take away the small majority in Parliament that wanted to dismiss the Speaker in today’s vote of no-confidence, which was thwarted as a result,” the organisation said in a statement.
The organisation also called on the executive and judiciary “to fully respect the institution of parliament and to ensure that individual parliamentarians are able to carry out their work effectively and without fear of reprisals in accordance with the Constitution.”
The IPU Secretary General, Martin Chungong, was “monitoring the situation and would bring the matter to the attention of the IPU’s governing bodies.”
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Source URL: Maldives Independent