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Soldiers surround speaker as opposition MPs protest in Majlis chamber

A week after the unprecedented expulsion of lawmakers by the police and military, the People’s Majlis resumed Monday with opposition MPs protesting in the chamber and soldiers surrounding the speaker’s chair.



A week after the unprecedented expulsion of lawmakers from the parliament by the police and military, the People’s Majlis resumed Monday with soldiers surrounding Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed as opposition MPs protested in the chamber.

The sitting was due to begin at 9 am but Maseeh arrived two hours later after security personnel cleared out opposition lawmakers from the speaker’s well.

The embattled speaker began proceedings over the clamour of opposition lawmakers calling for his resignation and quickly exited the chamber. What Maseeh announced was unclear but Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan declared on Twitter shortly thereafter that the sitting was over.

The only item on the agenda was a question from MP Abdulla Riyaz to the environment minister about building a seawall on the island of Kadoodhoo. Maseeh reportedly announced that the item was cancelled as Riyaz was absent.

Opposition lawmakers say a no-confidence motion submitted against Maseeh with the backing of 45 MPs must be put to a vote. A constitutionally-mandated deadline for the impeachment vote expired on July 24 but the deputy speaker had announced that the motion was rendered invalid by the contentious disqualification of four lawmakers.

Maseeh’s impeachment would have sealed the loss of President Abdulla Yameen’s previously unassailable majority in the 85-member house.

The parliament has effectively been suspended since the four-party opposition alliance submitted the no-confidence motion on July 3. Four lawmakers have since been detained and three put on trial as the police cracked down on opposition activities.

Shortly before today’s sitting began, opposition lawmakers removed Maseeh’s chair from the chamber and began protesting inside the speaker’s well, leading to clashes between MPs and military security personnel.

MP Rozaina Adam live-streamed the chaotic scenes on Facebook. Journalists and members of the public were refused entry to observe the sitting as the police barricaded surrounding roads.

Opposition lawmakers also wore face masks of Chief of Defence Forces Major General Ahmed Shiyam in protest against the military’s lockdown of parliament last week.

Soldiers in riot gear and riot police officers dragged out opposition lawmakers from the parliament building last Monday as they sought to force a vote on the no-confidence motion.

After the events were widely reported in the international media as a military takeover of parliament, the government insisted that the Maldives National Defence Force took measures to “ensure the security and safety of the premises”.

The parliament secretariat meanwhile stressed that MPs were notified that the no-confidence motion has been “adjudged as invalid” and that no sittings or committee meetings would take place until July 31 due to “enhanced security arrangements in the capital for the Independence Day festivities”.

The parliament building remained closed to opposition lawmakers until Sunday morning, after which the MNDF put out a statement decrying reports of soldiers “hijacking” parliament as “propaganda” intended to bring the military into disrepute.

The MNDF claimed that soldiers fulfilled their constitutional duty to “protect democratic institutions” after the parliament secretariat requested extra security measures and the police declared that the opposition’s plans to stage a protest and force a parliament sitting were unlawful.

In the wake of Monday’s sitting, Dr Abdulla Khaleel, the secretary-general of the Progressive Party of Maldives, meanwhile said in a statement: “This morning’s antics follow week-long failed efforts at rallying public support for oppositon attempts to overthrow the elected government through direct confrontation with law enforcement officials.”

The MP for Faafu Nilandhoo added: “A smear campaign against the police and MNDF, including incitement to violence against their families, highlights the opposition’s distasteful and disgraceful tactics.

“Attempts at disrupting public order and fragmenting the social fabric have been cold-shouldered by the people, who are today wiser and guarding against [former Presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed’s] brand of politics.”

“Today’s Majlis sitting has been held with Speaker Maseeh in the chair,” said the majority leader.