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Opposition moves no-confidence motion against defence minister

Mariya Ahmed Didi came under fire for saying India could have occupied the Maldives.



Opposition lawmakers on Monday submitted a motion of no-confidence against Defence Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi over controversial comments made during an interview with an Indian newspaper.

The motion was filed after failed attempts to summon her to the parliament’s security services oversight committee, MP Ahmed Nihan told the press.

The opposition hopes the vote will take place after the constitutionally-mandated 14-day notice period, the Progressive Party of Maldives parliamentary group leader added.

Leaders of the four-party ruling coalition, which controls a majority in the People’s Majlis, have vowed to defeat the motion. However, the unity of the joint parliamentary group has been called into question over the failure to pass key pieces of government-sponsored legislation.

The opposition contends the defence minister’s interview with Strategic News International during a visit to India in late January provided grounds for dismissal.

“If the Indians really wanted to occupy Maldives, they never had the intention, I’m sure, but if they do, I don’t know how we can stop it. You see, your airforce, your navy, your infantry, literally there is nothing we can do… this is just being practical,” Mariya had said. 

The remarks prompted a backlash from opposition supporters as PPM MPs vowed to summon the minister for questioning. “Insha Allah. We will not allow India to occupy Maldives as long as we are alive. But Mariya Didi might not prefer that,” Nihan tweeted.

But the defence ministry insisted her remarks about India’s age-old respect for the independence and sovereignty were omitted in local media reports, accusing some outlets of misleading the public for political gain.

– ‘Slow invasion’ –

The no-confidence motion comes after rising anti-India sentiment among opposition supporters over alleged unauthorised military uses of two helicopters gifted to the Maldives military.

Earlier this month, former home minister Umar Naseer started planning demonstrations against the presence of Indian soldiers who operate the helicopters.

A form was circulated on social media calling on interested individuals to join the ‘Indian Soldiers Leave!’ campaign. Naseer sought activists, volunteers and financial contributions.

“This is a national movement to increase awareness among the people before the Maldives is enslaved, to inform the people and to impose pressure on the governments of India and Maldives to send away the Indian soldiers,” Naseer wrote on Facebook.

“Helicopters, dornier aircrafts, radars and all these Indian military hardware are tools that will be used against us on the day when India takes over our country’s freedom.”

India was plotting a “slow invasion” of the Maldives, Naseer alleged, vowing that his nationalist movement “will not let them breathe as long as Indian soldiers remain in Maldives.”

Amid strained Indo-Maldives relations during the previous administration, president Abdulla Yameen in early June asked India to take back the helicopters by the end of that month.

The helicopters, mainly used for medical evacuations, were no longer  needed, the former ambassador claimed.

But the new administration of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih – which moved quickly to reset the historically close ties with India – renewed agreements to keep the helicopters. 

At a press briefing earlier this month, Chief of Defence Force Major General Abdulla Shamaal told reporters that Indian pilots were operating the helicopters because the Maldivian military lacked the technical expertise.

The command and directions on flying the choppers come from the Maldives National Defence Force, he stressed.

Medical evacuations would be costly and difficult with commercial airlines, he noted, whereas the helicopters can airlift patients from islands without domestic airports.

Shamaal also defended a radar system gifted by India. It was common practice for countries facing similar threats to use the same security network, he said.

As both countries face threats such as drug trafficking and illegal oil trade, the radar system would prove useful in detecting ships that enter Maldivian waters illegally, he explained.

The radars would be fully controlled and operated by the Maldives military, he assured.

“I think there are bigger issues that need our concern compared to that [helicopters]. From a sovereignty perspective, the biggest priority should be to protect and secure our borders,” he said.

He dismissed concerns over the helicopters and radars as politically motivated.

The nationalistic rhetoric of the opposition has also been reminiscent of anti-Indian sentiment whipped up during a 2012 campaign that led to the cancellation of Indian firm GMR’s contract to develop the international airport.