Western democracies have called on the Maldivian government to immediately restore the independence of the legislature after the unprecedented expulsion of opposition lawmakers from the parliament building by the police and military.
“The Embassies of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and the EU Delegation to Sri Lanka and the Maldives are alarmed by the recent actions of the Government of Maldives which seriously damage and undermine democracy, and run counter to the Maldives’ Constitution and the country’s international human rights obligations,” reads a joint statement released Tuesday night.
“The forcible closure of the nation’s Majlis to its members; security forces surrounding and entering Parliament; and the harassment, intimidation and arrests of elected members of parliament are deeply troubling.”
It added: “Legitimate opposition remains a vital component of any healthy democracy, and it is essential that the freedoms of assembly and expression are upheld for all. Opposition politicians and members of civil society must be able to conduct their rightful duties without fear of intimidation or arrest. It is critical for democracy in the Maldives that the Government respect fundamental freedoms.”
The Australian embassy also joined the chorus of concern with a statement urging the government to restore the “authority and independence of parliament and rights of its members” and to “safeguard the checks and balances which are essential for democracy to flourish.”
Following coverage of Monday’s events on international media, the government decried “false claims” of a military takeover of parliament and insisted that the soldiers took measures to “ensure the security and safety of the premises” in response to the opposition’s plans to stage a protest.
According to a statement by the parliament secretariat, the Maldives National Defence Force was asked to “beef up security in and around the Majlis” in response to the opposition’s call for direct action to back MPs as they sought to force a vote to impeach Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed.
MPs were notified last week 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 no-confidence motion was thrown out after four ex-ruling party lawmakers were contentiously deemed to have been stripped of their seats as a result of an anti-defection ruling from the Supreme Court.
But the four-party opposition alliance contended that the motion must be put to a vote after the constitutionally-mandated 14-day notice period and called on supporters to take to the streets.
As the no-confidence motion was submitted with 45 signatures, Maseeh’s impeachment would have sealed the loss of President Abdulla Yameen’s previously unassailable majority in the 85-member house.
Three opposition lawmakers were meanwhile put on trial after the motion was submitted for the second time on July 3.
MP Faris Maumoon, who was leading the push to remove Maseeh, was arrested on bribery charges last week whilst Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim’s trial on the same charge restarted on Tuesday.
MP Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim was arrested Monday night and remanded to police custody for 15 days.
The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives meanwhile condemned the opposition’s actions on Monday as “a catalogue of constitutional and legal violations”.
MP Ali Arif, the PPM’s spokesman, said: “Confronting the police, scaling the perimeter walls of the parliament complex, bashing up women journalists and circulating gross misinformation to the foreign press, and diplomatic missions is irrefutable evidence of the opposition’s desperation.”
He added: “Such tactics prove that the opposition leaders themselves know and believe that they cannot unseat the incumbent President Yameen in a free and fair election next year. Instead of responsible politics and lawful and peaceful assembly, the MDP-led opposition has, yet again, chosen to incite violence and spread fear in the capital. Failure to rally public support for direct action, opposition lawmakers reverted to pantomime and fiction.”
The PPM called for “speedy legal action against the perpetrators” and welcomed the “measured response and steadfast resolve of the security forces in thwarting [Monday’s] attempts at storming parliament and plunging the country into chaos.”