The opening of parliament has been cancelled for security reasons, days after a Supreme Court ruling ordered the release of key prisoners and reinstated MPs who had lost their seats for defecting from the ruling party.
The first sitting for 2018 was scheduled for Monday and due to be addressed by President Abdulla Yameen. It was cancelled indefinitely, parliament said in a message sent to journalists.
The reinstatement of the 12 MPs gives the opposition a majority in parliament, which has the power to impeach the president.
“The speaker has asked to inform that the opening of parliament scheduled to be held on Monday, February 5, 2018, will not be held as scheduled due to security reasons and that work is being done to hold the opening of the parliament as soon as possible,” the message said.
The same message was sent to all parliamentarians, some of whom confirmed receiving it on social media.
In a tweet MP and opposition spokesman Ahmed Mahloof said the opening was cancelled because the president was afraid.
A parliament spokesman was unable to specify what the security reason was.
The former solicitor general and constitutional lawyer, Ibrahim Riffath, told the Maldives Independent it was possible the cancellation was to deter a potential impeachment motion against the parliament speaker.
Last year the opposition alliance submitted a no-confidence motion to oust Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed, with the backing of a majority of lawmakers from the 85-member parliament.
The motion was filed with 45 signatories, including 10 MPs from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives, prompting opposition supporters to celebrate Yameen’s apparent loss of his parliamentary majority.
“The verdict issued on February 1 orders that the Majlis [parliament] sitting must be held with the participation of the 12 MPs,” said Riffath.
“But to cancel the sitting citing unclear security reasons is not prioritising the interests of the people. It’s quite possible that the sitting is cancelled because of the possibility of the speaker’s impeachment vote, but doing so is irresponsible.”
The cancellation came after local media reported parliament would reinstate the seats of the 12 lawmakers, with Majlis Secretary General Ahmed Mohamed telling the Maldives Independent the Supreme Court ruling was clear on the issue.
Saudhulla Hilmy, one of the 12 lawmakers who lost their seats, said he had started receiving text alerts from parliament.
“Today I got the text from Majlis saying the hearing for Monday has been cancelled. That is the first message I have had from Majlis in three months. I believe it means that Majlis recognises me as a member now,” he told the Maldives Independent.
“What has really happened is that they are certain that they have lost the majority. The only way they can move forward is by not having any sessions.”
Mohamed Ameeth, another MP who lost his seat, said the opposition would proceed with an impeachment motion against the speaker.
“I condemn the decision to cancel the Majlis sitting, it is another chance for the speaker to forcefully hijack parliament.
“But the speaker was elected by Majlis representatives and is answerable to us. We have the majority now and have submitted a no-confidence motion which will go ahead, and we will impeach him,” Ameeth said.
The international community has welcomed the Supreme Court decision and urged the government to respect it. While the MPs look to have regained their seats, there is no sign of the prisoners being released.
On Friday, the spokesman for the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called on all sides to exercise restraint.
“The Secretary-General reiterates his belief in finding a solution to the political stalemate in the Maldives through all-party talks, which the United Nations continues to stand ready to facilitate,” the spokesman said.
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