Eight ruling coalition MPs have formed a breakaway group in the People’s Majlis in what may be the first credible threat to President Abdulla Yameen’s majority at the parliament.
The eight, declaring loyalty to the president’s half brother and former president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, vowed Thursday to work with the opposition to rectify “evil laws” enacted by Yameen.
Promising protection, the MPs also urged judges and members of watchdog bodies to shake off executive influence.
The rival bloc, impelled by a civil war within the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives, reduces Yameen’s parliamentary majority in the 85-member house, from 54 to 46. It is likely to boost opposition numbers to 38, just five short of a majority.
If more MPs join the anti-Yameen bloc, as they promised to reporters Thursday, the president, who has weathered multiple crises including attempts at his ouster, could face a serious challenge to his rule.
This is because of the strong powers vested in the parliament by the Maldives constitution. The opposition has previously accused Yameen of abusing his majority to stack independent institutions in his favour, and undermining judicial independence.
Welcoming the announcement by the Gayoom-faction, opposition leader and former President Mohamed Nasheed said: “It is encouraging to see that eight MPs from the ruling party have pledged their intention to work with the opposition.
“We ask the rest of them to do the same and work towards reform. President Yameen is now losing his majority in the Parliament and any remaining legitimacy he may have had.”
The eight include Gayoom’s son, Faris Maumoon, Ahmed ‘Red Wave’ Saleem, Mohamed Musthafa, Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim, Ibrahim Shujau, Abdul Latheef Mohamed, and Saudhullah Hilmy from the PPM and Hussain Areef from Maldives Development Alliance, a ruling coalition partner.
Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party commands the support of 21 MPs. The Jumhooree Party, which claims to be an opposition party, has seven. With the addition of Adhaalath Party’s MP Anara Naeem, and the jailed independent MP Ahmed Mahloof, the opposition now has 38 lawmakers.
Majlis sittings have meanwhile been suspended until the second week of November.
Faris said that the new group would work independently from the Yameen-faction.
“We will now work together to decide our own whip-lines, based on merit of every issue brought to the parliament and after consulting the council [led by Gayoom],” he said, pledging to repeal several controversial laws passed recently, including a law re-criminalising defamation and a constitutional amendment that allows foreign freeholds in the Maldives for the first time.
“If opposing [Yameen] means jail time, we are ready to do that for the people and the nation,” he added.
“We have begun a huge national task and we will remain together,” Musthafa said. “The amendment to allow foreigners to hold lands in Maldives, the terrorism act, the defamation act… We are going to work to reverse all of these evil laws.”
Saleem said MPs had voted for the legal changes out of fear. Even when MPs raised objection, “the president would say it had to be. We were almost coerced to, to put it one way, we were threatened.”
Waheed, promising to defend members of watchdog bodies, said: “We call on all independent institutions to overcome your fears and stand up to protect the people. We won’t allow any member of any institution to be removed for doing their jobs. We will defend you.”
Judges should no longer be afraid of being sacked, Saleem added. “I want to urge the judiciary, be just in proceeding with trials. Do not be afraid. We will not allow any judge to be dismissed through Majlis. We are here in your defence.”
When asked if reports of a no-confidence motion against Speaker Abdulla Maseeh were true, the MPs declined to comment, saying their plans would be revealed at a later date.
Majlis sittings will reconvene when the finance ministry submits the budget for approval in early November, Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan told the Maldives Independent on Wednesday. When asked if the Yameen faction could lose its majority, he said: “No one, not even Maumoon Abdul Gayoom can do that, as long as President Yameen is in power. Simple.”
Nihan was not responding to calls at the time of going to press.
MDP MP Eva Abdulla meanwhile alleged that parliamentary sittings were suspended because of “shaky support for Yameen in the parliament.”
She said: “I think what they do not want to say is that support for Yameen inside parliament is diminishing. They have cancelled sittings because Maseeh is traveling, and previously in such circumstance, the deputy speaker continues sittings. But I do not think they now have the confidence to continue sittings in the speaker’s absence.”
Since Majlis reconvened on October 6, it has held only five sittings.