A no-confidence motion against Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed was defeated on Monday in the first battle of a political showdown between President Abdulla Yameen and the newly united opposition.
After 13 opposition MPs were forcibly expelled from the chamber, 48 ruling coalition lawmakers stood up and said No to removing Maseeh in a roll call vote.
The opposition alliance cried foul and western democracies expressed concern with “irregularities” but the government insisted that the vote was “free, fair, and transparent.”
A day after the vote, the United States embassy released a statement expressing concern about “irregularities that impeded a free and fair vote in the Maldives Parliament on March 27.”
We call on the Government to restore faith in democratic processes by ensuring free and impartial proceedings in Parliament, free and fair local elections, and basic freedoms of press, assembly, and speech.
The British embassy echoed concerns over “irregularities surrounding the vote”.
The United Kingdom believes that a clear and transparent parliamentary process that is open to public scrutiny is fundamental in a healthy democracy. Against the worrying backdrop of continued intimidation and harassment of media, political opponents and civil society, we urge the Government to respect parliamentary processes and to restore freedoms of expression and assembly.
The delegation of the European Union to the Maldives said in a tweet that the Maldivian government “must reassure people that democratic procedures in the constitution will be respected, including parliamentary rules.”
Canadian Ambassador Shelly Whiting tweeted: “Parliaments function by a system of rules with procedural safeguards and fundamental principles of democratic discussion. When these systems fail or are abused, democracies are the weaker for it and citizens therein done a grave disservice.”
The German embassy joined the chorus of concern on Friday.
The German Embassy is deeply concerned about the continuing erosion of democracy in the Maldives in recent days. The non-confidence motion against the Hon Speaker of the Maldivian Parliament was defeated after the vote had been conducted in a way that clearly violated the rules of procedure of the Parliament.
The disturbing news about the ensuing harassment of opposition politicians is contrary to democratic standards. The ongoing worrying developments are clearly not conducive to the sustainable economic development of the Maldives.
Germany strongly urges the Maldivian government to respect democratic norms and to stop the harassment of media, opposition parliamentarians and civil society.
The government, however, was adamant that the vote was free and fair.
The Government of Maldives expresses its unshakable commitment to uphold the rule of law and democratic principles, and to respect the democratic decisions taken by institutions of the State. The Maldives Parliament, since its establishment in 1932, has been, and will continue to be, the strongest defender and the lead proponent of democratic values in the country. The vote in the Parliament yesterday was conducted in the most transparent manner and through a democratic process underpinned by the rule of law and specifically in accordance with the Constitution of Maldives and the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament.
The Government of Maldives is confident that the country’s international partners would respect the democratic decisions of State institutions, including the Parliament. The Government remains engaged with international partners in further promoting democratic values in the country and in strengthening the democratic institutions in the Maldives.
On Thursday, Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee urged the international community to “observe clearly the intricacies of the laws of the land in the Maldives as it relates to a free, fair and transparent vote, such as was taken on that day, before rushing to judgement.”
As an open and cooperative partner and representative of this administration, I ask those abroad to ascertain the facts, from all relevant agencies including the government.
The Maldives has a constitution, and set of laws, unique to the territory duly passed, and amended, by its legal and constitutional legislative body — which may be different from other democracies but are not, by any sense, less democratic.
The key issue of contention over the no-confidence motion was the decision to conduct voting through a roll call vote, where each MP was asked individually to stand up and declare his or her stance, instead of the normal voting through the electronic system.
Deputy Speaker ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, who presided over proceedings, told state media after the sitting that there are no grounds to question the legality of the roll call vote.
The proposal for a roll call vote was made by Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan and approved with 45 votes in favour. The proposal was put to a vote through the electronic system and the results sheet showed that jailed MP Ahmed Mahloof and the presiding deputy speaker participated in the vote.
Opposition MP Ahmed Marzooq was also recorded as having voted in favour but he reportedly denied participating in the vote. Most opposition lawmakers were on their feet in protest when the voting took place.
But the deputy speaker insisted that he followed the parliamentary rules of procedure in calling a vote on Nihan’s proposal.
Moosa also vowed to conduct an investigation using the Majlis security camera footage.
Speaking to reporters after the vote, Nihan, the parliamentary group leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives, meanwhile contended that a roll call vote is the “best practice” on important matters.
“My question is opposition MPs who were very confident and said so openly, why did they not attend the roll call? If they knew they can win, why not stay in the chamber? Just like we said no to the motion they could have said yes,” he said.
Nihan also dismissed allegations about intimidation and coercion of pro-government lawmakers.
Referring to MP Mohamed Ameeth, who joined the opposition MPs in walking out before the vote, Nihan said: “Who threatened him till last night? Why should MPs be afraid? Its something being spun by opposition. That MPs are being threatened and blackmailed. MPs who didn’t have confidence, haven’t they left [PPM]?”
The opposition alliance meanwhile denounced the forced removal of 13 MPs, who were “manhandled, dragged and disproportionate force was used to forcefully move them out of the chambers by the military.”
With no opposition, the government won the vote with 48 votes in favour of keeping the Speaker. Forty two votes are required to carry a motion of no confidence against the Speaker. However, even with blatant regime intimidation, the government’s share of the vote in parliament appears to have collapsed. Until recently the government was comfortably able to command 61 votes in its favour.
It was clear early on Monday morning that President Yameen had no intention of allowing parliamentarians a free or fair vote. Riot police had barricaded the parliament and refused to allow members of the press, NGOs or the public from attending. The public gallery was filled with soldiers in plainclothes throughout the day’s proceedings. Live feed of the parliamentary proceeding was cut off during the most of the session.
During the debate over the Speaker, ruling party parliamentary leader Ahmed Nihan called for a vote against the speaker to be conducted via a ‘roll-call’, rather than the normal electronic voting system.
A roll-call vote means MPs have to say, one by one, whether they are for or against a motion. Unlike the electronic voting system, where MPs are permitted 30 seconds to change their vote, a roll call prevents MPs from assessing the way the vote is going before casting their final ballot. A roll-call considerably raises the stakes for pro-government MPs who defy the ruling party whip.
Under parliamentary procedures, a roll-call is only permitted if there is a defect to the electronic voting system. During grave disorder on the parliament floor, with many MPs out of their seats protesting the regime’s attempts to undermine the vote, the Deputy Speaker called a vote on whether to have a roll-call.
In a moment of great farce, MPs then voted with their electronic voting system, claimed by them as defective, on whether the electronic voting system should be abandoned because it is defective. Opposition MPs witnessed pro-government MPs running around the Majlis chamber casting fraudulent votes with other MP’s voting machines.
MP Ahmed Mahloof, who is currently serving prison time in Maafushi Jail, was recorded as having voted in the roll-call vote. Deputy Speaker Reeko Moosa, as Chair of today’s proceedings, and therefore not permitted to vote in the proceedings, was also recorded as having voted.
Deputy Speaker Moosa then declared the parliament had voted in favour of the roll-call. Protesting opposition MPs were then removed from the chamber by the military, and the Deputy Speaker held the vote of no-confidence against the Speaker without an opposition MP present. Inexplicably, MPs were handed down the decision of their vote on piece of paper written “no” to the motion, while “yes” to the motion were not given.
At a press briefing on Monday afternoon, Minority Leader Ibrahim Solih MP and Jumhoory Party president Qasim Ibrahim MP and Faris Maumoon of the ruling party called the vote null and void, pointing out that it was conducted in clear breach of parliamentary rules. Solih said the no-confidence motion against the Speaker will be resubmitted.
Minority Leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih MP said: “Today we witnessed the disgraceful spectacle of President Yameen’s regime rigging the vote of no confidence against the Speaker. The ruling party’s parliamentary vote has collapsed, and they can only win by rigging the system and using the military to remove dissenting MPs.”
Gasim Ibrahim, Jumhooree Party Leader said: “It is our duty to remove the Speaker and ensure the integrity of the parliament. We are committed to this cause and cannot be intimidated by strong-arm tactics.”
Ahmed Faris Maumoon, Progressive Party of Maldives MP, said: “Taking the vote in clear contravention of Parliamentary procedures proves what we have been saying about how the Parliament is being run under current Speaker Maseeh.”
Anara Naeem, MP, Adhaalath Party said: “The entire process was in violation of parliament’s mandate. Military removed opposing MPs, barred the public, NGOs and media and voted in direct contravention of the Standing Orders. The vote cannot be deemed valid.”