President Abdulla Yameen asked parliament on Monday to extend a state of emergency in the Maldives for an additional 30 days, but lawmakers threw the country into limbo by either stalling on the vote or boycotting it altogether.
The state of emergency was declared on February 6 for a period of 15 days, expiring Tuesday. Parliament was initially told that the extension was for 15 days but the president’s office said later that a 30-day extension was sought.
A total of 39 lawmakers from the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) attended a session to debate the president’s request, but all opposition lawmakers boycotted it.
Members sent the state of emergency declaration to the national security committee for debate. The committee, which met behind closed doors, approved the declaration.
The ruling party and opposition said there would be a sitting at 8 pm to vote on whether to approve the state of emergency and the president’s request for an extension. The opposition planned to boycott this session too. But, by 8:40 pm Monday, there was no sign of such a session taking place.
“The president has followed everything he has to do according to law, which is to send the declaration to the parliament,” said MP Ahmed Nihan. “Parliament has also followed everything it has to do, which is to submit it to the floor. It has been submitted and we are happy with the declaration. The opposition, if they want to annul this declaration they have to go to parliament and ask for a vote.
“We will hold a vote to approve this declaration,” Nihan told reporters. “But what we are saying is that whether the parliament approves it or not the situation does not change. The state of emergency does not become void because the parliament does not approve it.”
A lawmaker from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party accused the PPM of behaving unconstitutionally.
“Article 257 (of the constitution) clearly states that the state of emergency has to be approved by parliament. The state of emergency declared for 15 days will expire by 8pm tomorrow (Tuesday),” said Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.
“If it is not approved by parliament before that, it is going to be invalid. Once the state of emergency becomes void everything done under that state of emergency also will be void and invalid.”
Constitutional lawyer and former solicitor general Ibrahim Riffath also pointed out the flaws in Nihan’s argument.
“Saying that the government can continue the state of emergency without parliamentary approval is a violation of the constitution. It is a blow to the supremacy of the constitution,” he told the Maldives Independent.
“Saying the government can continue a state of emergency without parliamentary approval is not something that is constitutionally recognized. Doing such an unlawful thing is directly against the prerequisites of the office of the president. A dictator might continue the state of emergency but it is constitutionally unlawful.”
MDP lawmaker MP Ahmed Mahloof, speaking to reporters earlier Monday outside the parliament compound, explained that the boycott was to prevent the ruling party from having the numbers needed for the crucial vote.
“According to the constitution, any vote that requires compliance by the people has to be taken with the presence of more than half of all MPs. That number is 43. Right now there are 40 MPs inside, so they can’t take the vote,” he said.
Mahloof later corrected himself, saying it was 39 MPs.
Nihan conceded the numbers were not there and appeared to thumb a nose at the constitution, while also blaming the opposition for the vote not having taken place earlier.
“The moment this declaration was on the parliament floor the opposition has issued a three line whip banning its MPs from joining the vote. So we don’t have the quorum for the vote, but the constitution does not say it has to be approved by the parliament. The constitution says that it has to be submitted to the parliament.”
The opposition’s headcount in parliament has been whittled down further after the Supreme Court postponed the reinstatement of 12 lawmakers who had been stripped of their seats for defecting from the PPM.
It also threw out a case from Yumna Maumoon, the daughter of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had challenged the state of emergency declaration. The court said there was no constitutional basis for saying the state of emergency was in violation of the constitution.
Yameen announced a state of emergency, he said, so that a coup plot could be investigated.
His office said it was disappointed at the opposition’s “disengagement” with Monday’s proceedings, saying it would “cripple” parliament’s ability to decide the issue.