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Ministers on media offensive as defecting lawmakers declare stand

“The opposition has mounted several such political challenges in the past, which the administration is confident of weathering once again,” the president’s spokesman Ibrahim Hussain Shihab told Reuters.



Ministers went on a media offensive Tuesday night in the face of the apparent collapse of the pro-government parliamentary majority with the defection of ten ruling party lawmakers.

Ten MPs of the Progressive Party of Maldives joined the opposition alliance Monday to move a no-confidence motion against the speaker with 45 signatures, potentially reshaping the political landscape if the opposition is able to command a clear majority in the 85-member house.

But the government refuses to concede the loss of Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed, a key ally who has pushed through its legislative agenda over the minority’s protests for due process.

“The opposition has mounted several such political challenges in the past, which the administration is confident of weathering once again,” the president’s spokesman Ibrahim Hussain Shihab told Reuters.

Appearing alongside lawmakers on the state broadcaster and two pro-government TV stations, Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed, Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee and Home Minister Ahmed Azleen accused the opposition of seeking to destabilise the country and halt the government’s development projects.

Senior ruling party lawmakers have also disputed the validity of the motion, citing PPM MP Ahmed Rasheed’s claim that his signature was forged. But opposition lawmakers say the MP for Isdhoo signed willingly in front of witnesses.

Of the other nine defectors, MP Abdul Latheef Mohamed left the PPM on Tuesday. The MP for Dhidhdhoo said in a resignation letter sent to Yameen that he was unable to follow the whip-line and cited the government’s heavy losses in May’s municipal elections as a sign of discontent among the party’s grassroots.

Hours later, MP Ilham Ahmed resigned as the deputy leader of the party’s parliamentary group whilst MP Saudhulla Hilmy confirmed his signature with a tweet Tuesday night.

MP Abdulla Ahmed told the Maldives Independent that his signature was authentic. “I have publicly declared my stand earlier and I shall stand by it,” he said.

The other lawmakers were not responding to calls and have yet to publicly comment. Several are believed to be out of the country.

On Wednesday, MP Mohamed Abdulla met with exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed in Sri Lanka. His “courage and resolve” became clear during the meeting, the opposition leader tweeted.

Of the nine defectors, only Saudhulla, Machangoalhi South MP Abdulla Sinan and Fuvahmulah North MP Ali Shah were PPM candidates. MPs Abdulla Ahmed, Mohamed Abdulla, Hussain Shahudhy, and Ilham switched to the PPM from the Jumhooree Party after the break-up of the coalition that brought Yameen to power.

Abdul Latheef and Ahmed Thoriq ‘Tom’ were elected as independents. Last week, Thoriq called for the resignation of Fisheries Minister Shainee amid media reports of disunity among PPM lawmakers.

On Tuesday, unnamed PPM MPs told newspaper Mihaaru that Yameen has been appealing to the defectors to return to the fold. Later that night, JP MP Abdulla Riyaz claimed at an opposition’s rally that Yameen has been unable to reach several lawmakers and alleged bribery attempts involving millions of dollars.

In their TV appearances, the ministers meanwhile targeted the coalition formed between former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and opposition parties. The opposition leaders are driven by self-interest and desire for power, they said, questioning the ability of former rivals Nasheed and Gayoom to sustain a four-party coalition through the 2018 presidential election.

Gayoom spoke at an opposition rally for the first time on Monday night. The 79-year-old addressed criticism over the unlikely partnership with Nasheed, calling it “the best way forward for the nation”.

“I want to say that we are not working on an individual level anymore. We are not working on a personal level either. We are working on a principled stance,” he said.

“I might not have treated Mohamed Nasheed in the best way. He might have also done the same. But that is in the past.”

Gayoom also praised coalition partners JP leader Gasim Ibrahim and Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla, who was taken back to jail last week after spending Ramadan under house arrest.

Maldivians are living in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, he said, alleging that MP Rasheed was forced to retract his support for Maseeh’s impeachment.

The opposition alliance should not “stop at 45” but work towards gaining a 60-seat majority, he said.