Opposition MP Ahmed Thoriq has announced his intention to boycott Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the Maldives parliament during his upcoming official visit.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday night, the lawmaker said he did not participate in the vote on a resolution passed in late April to invite Modi to speak “in order to protest the harassment and inhumane actions committed against Muslims in India.”
The Progressive Party of Maldives MP for Mahibadhoo said he will leave the chamber before Modi’s address on Saturday night.
“The first step by those who advocate for secular thought and to separate religion and politics is scheduling the People’s Majlis sitting between the Maqrib and Isha [evening] prayers,” the former football star wrote.
“Should we sit and watch changes brought to the Maldives like the ones brought by Turkey’s former president Ataturk?” he asked.
Modi is due to arrive on Saturday for a two-day state visit in his first overseas trip since securing a second term last month.
PPM MP Ahmed Shiyam also echoed Thoriq’s sentiments and questioned whether the speaker was “forced” to schedule the sitting between the dusk and evening prayers between 6pm and 8pm.
MP Adam Shareef Umar – who was defence minister under the former administration when ties with the giant neighbour deteriorated – backed Modi’s visit as important to strengthen relations.
But holding the sitting between evening prayers was “alien to the customs and culture of the Maldives,” he wrote on Facebook, expressing concern and noting that it would inconvenience people who observe the non-obligatory fasting for six days after Ramadan.
“India will respect Maldivian culture. And I hope the Maldivian government would very much consider these matters. I tend to believe they couldn’t find another time because it’s a state visit. I support strengthening ties with India. I will go to the sitting.”
The sitting was scheduled for 6:45pm because of the prime minister’s busy itinerary, parliament’s secretary general Fathimath Niusha told Raajje TV on Thursday. The sitting was previously arranged for 8:45pm.
Parliament’s media director Hassan Ziyau told CNM that MPs would be able to attend the sitting after performing the Maghrib prayer at 6:17pm and leave before Isha prayers are called at 7:35pm. Sittings have previously been held at the same time, he noted.
Religion is a hot-button issue in local politics.
Former president Mohamed Nasheed – the new speaker of parliament after his Maldivian Democratic Party won a landslide victory in April – was accused of pursuing a secularisation agenda during the former MDP government.
Religion was also a prominent part of the 2018 campaign with former president Abdulla Yameen accusing the opposition coalition of planning to introduce anti-Islamic practices to the 100 percent Muslim Maldives.