N Sathiya Moorthy 13 July 2017
In a week-plus of rapid developments in Maldives, Attorney-General (AG) Mohammed Anil moved the Supreme Court, seeking to disqualify ‘defector’ MPs after 10 parliamentarians of President Abdulla Yameen’s camp of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) signed in and made up the numbers for a no-trust motion against Speaker Abdulla Maseeh. The AG’s move is seen as an acknowledgment of the Yameen camp’s failure to woo back most, if not all, of the ‘defector’ MPs. It is, in turn, seen as the first victory for the combined even as the Parliament Secretariat announced the indefinite postponement of the House session.
The ‘defection’ story had unfolded some hours before the re-convening of the Parliament session on July 4, 2017. All the ‘defectors’ were from the ruling Yameen camp, but most had earlier crossed over from the erstwhile electoral ally, Jumhooree Party (JP) of billionaire-businessman Gasim Ibrahim. With the Yameen camp and the Maldives Democratic Alliance (MDA) partner backing the AG’s move, the JP promptly demanded that any ‘anti-defection law’ of the kind should apply to their MPs as well. Possibly, the five-MP MDA founded by businessman ‘Sun’ Siyam also fears the heat.
As events unfolded, most if not all MPs who signed in the Speaker’s no-trust motion of the combined Opposition, stuck with it, while Ahmed ‘Quaary’ Rasheed, the one who ‘went back’, kept changing his story, adding to the PR woes of the Yameen camp even more. If anything, over the week, many of the signatory-MPs also announced their decision to quit the PPM (Yameen), saying they wanted to be freed from any whip binding them on any vote on the no-trust move against Speaker Maseeh.
The MPs’ assertion carries a strong message. The last time the four-party combined Opposition moved a no-trust motion against Speaker Maseeh, the Government side resorted to head-count in the place of simultaneous electronic voting. The Yameen MPs were obviously not ready to come out in the open at the time, and the motion failed to carry muster. Citing the ruling as the cause, the Opposition staged a walk-out.
This should also partially explain the AG’s initiative at this time.
However, in disposing of the petition, the Supreme Court might be called upon to decide on the legality and morality of a constitutional authority like the AG moving the petition in the first place.
The matter relates to Parliament, yes, and political parties at best, where the AG does not have any role. The AG’s move, as against any petition of the kind from the PPM as a party or any Yameen MP, thus becomes questionable.
Obtaining the signature of 10 Yameen MPs to make up the revised number of 45 for any no-trust move against the Speaker is seen as the first real victory for the four-party combined Opposition. The Yameen camp voted unilaterally to amend the Parliament’s rules, increasing the number of signatories, from 22 to 45. It is anybody’s guess if the new number would have stood judicial scrutiny, as the required vote to move the Speaker in the 85-member House was/is only 42, minus the incumbent and the Deputy Speaker, who would chair the session and has a ‘casting vote’.
It is likely that Speaker Maseeh will wait till the Supreme Court ruling to re-convene the House. In turn, the ruling could reflect the court’s mood in matters of politics as it has a role in any impeachment proceedings against President Yameen. The Opposition sees the no-trust motion against Speaker Maseeh as the first step towards impeachment of Yameen and his Vice-President Abdulla Jihad, and fresh presidential polls with a Speaker of their choice as ‘acting’ President for two months.
The Yameen camp has justified the AG’s move, saying that if one constitutional institution (Parliament) did not stand up (to ‘defection’), others could/would be moved. If it is an indication that they do not count any more on their two-thirds majority in the House, they could not be conveyed it better – or, worse.
The time and timing of the Opposition moves are also crucial as at least they desire to have Yameen out of the way ahead of the presidential polls next year. If experience is any indication, three of the four partners in the Opposition combine want legislative and/or judicial decisions to have their respective leaders ‘re-qualified’ to contest the presidential polls, at least for the record.
The main Opposition MDP’s leader and former President Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed is now a ‘fugitive’ from law after ‘jumping’ jail when on medical leave in the UK and obtaining political asylum there. PPM founder and Yameen’s half brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and JP’s Gasim Ibrahim were disqualified under a fresh law fixing 65-year upper-limit for contesting the presidency. At the time, the MDP had voted with the Yameen camp in Parliament.
Yameen is battling on a development agenda as against the Opposition ‘democracy’ platform. The latter possibly has fewer takers than ahead of the 2008 presidential polls, when Nasheed and the MDP flagged them against incumbent Gayoom, who was in office for 30 long years. Yet,
Any impeachment of Yameen ahead of the presidential polls could mean that his opponents might very well consider ‘disqualifying’ him, in turn, ahead of the presidential polls.
It would be a moral issue for them, if it came to that, as having criticised him on that score, they would find it difficult to justify their own action of the kind. But then, the Yameen camp might then suffer for want of a credible presidential candidate, as his adversaries now, but then the latter too could go their old ways of contesting one another, at least in the first round, and losing their ‘joint credibility’ in the process – and with that the credibility of democracy as understood by Maldivians.
(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter)