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MPs barred entry as Maldives parliament shortens term

A dozen defectors from the ruling party were deemed to have lost their seats in July last year.



Ten MPs deemed to have lost their seats were blocked by police officers from entering parliament Wednesday as soldiers manned the gates.

Roads surrounding parliament were cordoned off with barricades set up hours before the 1 pm sitting. The lawmakers held up their official passes and demanded a legal justification but police officers refused to let them pass.

The MPs announced they would attend sittings after the Supreme Court declared last week that separate rulings are needed to decide whether they have lost their seats.

As the apex court is the constitutional authority on settling disputes concerning “the removal, or vacating of seats, of a member of the People’s Majlis,” the lawmakers say they remain members until final judgments are issued.

A dozen former ruling party lawmakers were deemed to have lost their seats in July last year after they defected to hand the opposition a clear majority. Their contentious disqualification was used to quash a no-confidence motion against Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed, a key ally of the president.

The constitution requires by-elections within two months to fill vacant seats but 60,000 constituents – nearly a quarter of the Maldivian electorate – have now been deprived of representation for more than a year.

Restoration of the “normal functioning” of parliament was among the demands made by the European Union as a framework was approved last month to impose targeted sanctions.

Meanwhile, with opposition lawmakers continuing a year-long boycott, amendments to the parliament standing orders were voted through at Wednesday’s sitting.

Only 26 MPs from the 85-member house were in attendance, all of whom voted in favour of the proposed changes.

The rules were revised to shorten the duration of the second legislative session of the year. The rules previously stated that parliament would break for a one-month recess at the end of August, but the date has been brought forward to August 16.

The third session would now begin on August 27 instead of October.

The change is meant to “ensure parliament will be in session during the presidential campaign, so [President Abdulla] Yameen can change legislation as and when required, to suit his campaign,” opposition MP Eva Abdulla suggested.

The presidential election is scheduled for September 23.

Invoking a “state of necessity” despite the lack of the constitutional quorum of 43 MPs needed to pass laws, the ruling party has been pushing through controversial pieces of legislation in recent weeks.

Aside from the lawmakers who were refused entry, several remain in detention.

Of the dozen unseated ex-Progressive Party of Maldives MPs, Abdulla Sinan and Ilham Ahmed were arrested upon their return to the Maldives after months in exile. Their arrests came days after a state of emergency was declared on February 5.

They were later charged with terrorism over an alleged plot to topple the government and they remain in custody.

On Wednesday, the criminal court rejected a dozen pre-trial motions from Sinan’s lawyer.

Opposition MPs Faris Maumoon, son of jailed former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and Jumhooree Party deputy leader Abdulla Riyaz also remain in custody on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government.

Photo from MP Mohamed Ameeth