Youth group calls for referendum on foreign freeholds

Youth group calls for referendum on foreign freeholds
July 29 18:00 2015

A youth group has called for a march on August 7 to urge President Abdulla Yameen to hold a public referendum on a constitutional amendment that allows foreigners to own land in the Maldives.

The bill was passed with overwhelming multi-party support, just a day after it was first submitted to the People’s Majlis. The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) had amended parliamentary standing orders to fast track the process of passing a bill into law.

The youth group Heylaa (Awake) said it is protesting against the lack of consultation with the public.

Heylaa, which describes itself as a non-partisan youth movement, said a large majority of the public opposed the amendment and urged President Yameen to use his constitutional authority to call for a referendum on the matter.

The amendment will allow foreigners who invest more than US$1 billion to own plots of land within the project site. At least 70 percent of the project site must also be reclaimed land.

“One of our main issue with the amendment is that there is no consensus even within the political parties in the matter. Even PPM is split up on the matter. Its leader, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has called for a referendum,” said Mabrook Azeez, a member of Heylaa.

“When the political parties do not have consensus within them, then it is necessary to go for a public referendum.”

Gayoom, former president and half-brother to Yameen, had said that previous governments had refrained from selling parts of Maldivian territory to prevent influence over the country’s independence, sovereignty, and resources.

This is the first time Gayoom had publicly opposed Yameen.

The attorney general last week said the president is not required to hold a referendum on the amendment, while Vice President Ahmed Adeeb said: “How can we govern if we are to call referendums on every issue? … Not everyone will agree on every step [President Yameen] takes for economic reform.”

The second amendment to the 2008 constitution was approved with 70 votes of the 85-member house on July 22. Some MPs had expressed concern lack of time to debate the amendments.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had issued a free whip, in a move widely perceived as part of a deal made in exchange for the release of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Ten MPs of the MDP and nine MPs of the Jumhooree Party JP also voted in favour of the unprecedented change. Some 14 MPs voted No.

Heylaa said as representatives of the people, MPs had proved disloyal in protecting the rights of the people.

Its members had reportedly staged a walkout at an opposition rally on Tuesday night “in protest of the shameless rhetorical speech given by [MDP] MP Ali Azim, who voted in favour of the amending the constitution within 24hrs of the introduction to Majlis floor.”

“Hiding behind the sham message of maintaining the unity of the party or the movement when faced with criticism is not in any way better than the current government shielding itself from valid criticism by the opposition using the concept of sovereignty,” said Heylaa in a Facebook Post.

During the debate before voting on the amendment the MDP said the party supports “free ownership of land and property” in principle, but expressed concern with the amendments facilitating “foreign non-commercial logistical installations in the Maldives.”

Speaking to Maldives Independent today, Mabrook also dismissed rumors that Heylaa is part of the MDP.

“By chance, most of our participants are MDP members. But we also have worked with various NGOs, JP members, and Adhaalath Party.”