Speaker conducts chaotic Majlis sitting under heavy military guard

Speaker conducts chaotic Majlis sitting under heavy military guard
August 23 13:39 2017

Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed presided over Wednesday’s sitting of parliament under heavy military guard amid clashes between opposition and pro-government lawmakers.

Walled off from protesting MPs by soldiers in plainclothes, Maseeh adjourned the sitting after calling a vote on the president’s nominee for ambassador to Sri Lanka.

Mohamed Hussain Shareef ‘Mundhu,’ a former minister at the president’s office, was approved with 28 votes in favour – a record low for the ruling coalition – while opposition lawmakers were on their feet in front of the speaker’s desk.

The opposition says the People’s Majlis has been under “military siege” since the unprecedented expulsion of opposition lawmakers from the parliament house on July 24, the day a constitutionally-mandated deadline for voting on a no-confidence motion against Maseeh expired.

The motion was deemed invalid by the disputed disqualification of four lawmakers who backed Maseeh’s impeachment. But the opposition insists that it must be put to a vote and questions the legitimacy of decisions made while the Majlis remains “hijacked” by the military.

Opposition MPs continued to protest in the chamber when Majlis resumed after a three-week hiatus on Tuesday. Sittings were suspended after a fire broke out in a toilet.

Shortly before Wednesday’s sitting was due to begin, opposition lawmakers gathered outside Maseeh’s office, which was blocked by military security personnel, prompting senior MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives to also stand guard outside Maseeh’s door with their arms linked.

Live-streamed videos from MPs Ahmed Mahloof and Rozaina Adam showed verbal sparring and heated exchanges escalate into a scuffle between ruling party and opposition lawmakers.

After MP Ali Azim from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party shoved MP Hussain Mohamed Latheef on the face, MP Ali Arif kicked the door of the minority leader’s office and barged in with other PPM MPs.

Lawmakers also hurled profanity-laden insults and allegations of corruption at each other.

As with Tuesday’s sitting, soldiers barred entry to the Majlis chamber until ten minutes before the sitting began.

“The Majlis is under the occupation of the military. The parliament chambers must be accessible by MPs at any time, it is our house, where we debate matters of importance to the people,” MP Imthiyaz Fahmy, the MDP’s spokesman, told the Maldives Independent.

“So then we went to Maseeh’s office to ask why it is closed. And that office was also blocked by the military. There were some scuffles with some MPs. When MPs tried to go to committees, their way was blocked.”

MP Anara Naeem was blocked from entering a committee room by soldiers from the Special Protection Group.  

“They were blocking our access to the staircase. We had to wait for some time before we were allowed to pass,” the Adhaalath Party MP told the Maldives Independent.

“We have sent a letter to the Majlis secretary-general asking him to clarify why we were stopped on the way to Majlis. We do not believe that MPs should be restricted movement in the Majlis building.”

But Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan defended the actions of the Majlis security personnel.

“The chamber isn’t opened before the sitting because opposition members hijack the speakership when it’s opened,” he said.

“The speaker has the authority to ask the security to take measures to prevent this. Even in the last Majlis sitting held 21 days ago, we saw opposition take out the chair of parliament speaker and damage Majlis property. Today we saw PPM members get angry and cause disruptions. I don’t believe that Majlis property should be damaged by any party.”

Nihan, who was also seen entering the minority leader’s office, said he went to ask the MDP parliamentary group leader “to ask his parliamentary group to stop hijacking the speaker’s office.”

The ruling coalition’s voting bloc was down to 28 because several members were out of Malé, Nihan continued, including MPs Nazim Rashad, Ahmed Assad and Ahmed ‘Redwave’ Saleem.

“Some PPM members were out of the country and some members were not able to attend the vote, some were confused about the time of the vote amid all the disruptions,” he said.

“Tomorrow will have a sitting to confirm the president’s nominee for [Maldives Monetary Authority] governor. Tomorrow all PPM MPs [present] in Malé will vote.”

Voting on the president’s nominee for central bank governor is the only item on the agenda for Thursday’s sitting.

Nihan also suggested that the opposition should submit a new no-confidence motion against Maseeh.

On Tuesday, the four-party opposition coalition meanwhile expressed concern with the Supreme Court’s delay in ruling on the disqualification of the four former PPM lawmakers, accusing Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed “subverting the parliamentary process by deliberately delaying its ruling.”

“We believe that the Chief Justice is effectively sitting on the judgment and exerting undue influence on the other four Supreme Court justices,” reads a joint statement.

“We are also troubled by reports that the Chief of the Defence Forces, Major General Ahmed Shiyam — whose troops stormed parliament last month — is also threatening the Justices to rule in favour of President Yameen.

“Since the President’s support in parliament collapsed earlier this year,, he has resorted to increasingly illegal means to control the legislature. Most recently, the Prosecutor General has charged 13 opposition MPs with ‘obstruction of Police duty.’ If found guilty, the charges carry a maximum sentence of 1 year in jail and the lawmakers stand to lose their seats.”