New Delhi: With the imminent expiry of the state of emergency in the Maldives, the country’s government asked the parliament to extend the emergency for 30 days, but it hasn’t yet got the parliamentary approval with opposition boycott making the legality of any vote questionable.
The Maldives government today (February 19) submitted a proposal to impose the state of emergency in the Indian Ocean nation island by 30 days. Initially, the parliament was informed that it was for 15 additional days, taking into account that the emergency began from February 5. However, later in the evening, the Maldives president’s office had asked for the emergency decree to extended for another 30 days.
When the parliament began its extraordinary session, there were only 39 ruling party lawmakers present. One PPM member was out of the country due to the treatment of a parent. The entire opposition boycotted the 85-member House.
With only 39 members present, it was less than half of the total membership of the House. According to Article 87 of the Maldivian constitution, voting on any matter which requires compliance has to take place only when more than half of the “total membership” of the House were present.
The request was sent to the National Security Committee of the Majlis (parliament) for discussion. It approved the request after a meeting behind closed doors.
The media had been told by the ruling party that there would be a session of the Majlis at 8 pm. But none were held till midnight.
A close aide of President Abdulla Yameen has claimed that the constitution did not ask for approval within 14 days, only that it should be submitted to the parliament.
“Parliament has also followed everything it has to do, which is to submit it to the floor. It has been submitted and we are happy with the declaration. The opposition, if they want to annul this declaration they have to go to parliament and ask for a vote,” said the head of parliamentary group of the ruling party, Ahmed Nihan.
There is uncertainty about the next steps. The government supporters have claimed that the Majlis can constitutionally approve the extension by 8 pm. on Tuesday. However, there are also opposition voices asserting that President Yameen could even declare a fresh decree for a state of emergency after the end of 14 days as stipulated in the constitution on Monday.
On Sunday evening, the ball was set rolling for Maldives parliament to be convened, with the Supreme Court passing an order to delay the enforcement of its February 1 ruling on reinstating 12 previously disqualified MPs. The Supreme Court had disqualified them in July 2017 based on a petition by the government after they defected to the opposition.
The apex court’s injunction came in tandem with 85-member People’s Majlis being called on Monday for an “extraordinary session”. The parliament is expected to approve and extend the emergency provisions issued by the Abdullah Yameen administration.
The injunction on the 12 MPs was important as it will allow the ruling coalition to retain its majority. If the 12 MPs had been allowed to vote, then the numbers would be stacked in favour of the opposition – 44 to 40. Even with four opposition MPs in custody and unable to attend parliament, the opposition and ruling party would have been at 40 each. The deciding vote could had been cast by Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed.
However, the Maldivian attorney general asked the truncated three-member Supreme Court to delay the enforcement of the ruling on the 12 legislators as the February 1 order on the grounds of violating the constitution. The Supreme Court agreed. This means that while the ruling party will have 40 members, the opposition will have just 32.
Maldives has been under a state of emergency since February 5 night. Under the Maldivian constitution, a presidential proclamation of emergency has to be approved by the parliament within 14 days. The parliament has the right to revoke, approve and extend the operation of the declaration.
However, with the Supreme Court’s injunction on the 12 MPs, the intention of the government is rather clear. The parliament is likely to approve and extend the state of emergency in Maldives beyond February 20. The statute says that the period of extension is 30 days at a time.
What the Maldives envoy to India had to say about the emergency being lifted
Devirupa Mitra’s exclusive interview with Mohamed Nasheed on his request for Indian intervention and more
Under international law, can India intervene in the Maldives? Priya Pillai explains why not
Maya Mirchandani talks to former foreign secretary Shyam Saran on what India should do
When President Yameen told the Indian military to keep off the Maldives
Sources told The Wire that India had got a strong assurance from Maldivian government that the emergency will not be extended. If the Maldives government obtained legislative endorsement to not only approve but extend the state of emergency, then it will be a particularly “serious situation” for India, they added.
When Indian ambassador Akhilesh Mishra met with Maldivian foreign secretary Ahmed Sareer on February 15 in Malé, one of his two questions had been on the lifting of the emergency by the expiry date of February 19.
On February 16, the Indian external affairs ministry spokesperson had specifically addressed the issue of extending the Emergency. “We have noticed that the emergency which has been declared in Maldives, is valid for next few days. We will wait to see the steps which will be taken by the government of Maldives after this,” said MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar.
He also pointed out that India had “called on the government of Maldives to lift the state of Emergency and restore the democratic process including the functioning of judiciary which is free of intimidation”.
In a recent interview to The Wire, Maldivian ambassador to India Ahmed Mohamed had said that the government had every intention to lift the emergency, but he had a rider – once the “judicial deadlock” was resolved.
The envoy’s “judicial deadlock” referred to the Supreme Court’s February 1 ruling that ordered the release of nine political prisoners, reinstated seats of 12 MPs and also curbed the powers of the Judicial Services Commission.
Following the emergency proclamation, the chief justice was arrested, along with another Supreme Court judge and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had rule over Maldives for 30 years. They were mainly charged with bribery and conspiracy to overthrow the government
On the first day of the emergency, the remaining three Supreme Court Judges revoked the sections in the February 1 order on the release of political prisoners and Judicial Service Commission.
When the senior Maldivian diplomat was asked how can the government claim that ‘judicial deadlock’ continues since the concerned sections had been revoked, he said that there was an ongoing investigation, which may be “holding up” the emergency.
Incidentally, the Maldivian ambassador had also told The Wire in the interview conducted on February 15 that the government had no intention “to contest” the ruling on the reinstatement of the 12 MPs.
There have been large protests in the Maldivian capital and outlying islands since Friday night, with several opposition supporters arrested. Around 20 provisions of the constitutions are under abeyance under the state of emergency, including the freedom of assembly.
On Sunday, United Nations representatives also met with a delegation of Maldivians ministers in the Malé over the current state in the Indian ocean nation. The meeting took place after UN had agreed to respond to an appeal from the Maldivian opposition to media in the ongoing crisis. Various UN agencies have previously called for the lifting of the emergency and denounced the arrest of the Supreme Court judges.
Over the last five years, New Delhi and Yameen have largely remained wary of each other, even though India had assumed that it could still do business with the Maldivian government since the president remained firmly in control. Maldives is the only South Asian country which has not been visited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
India’s unhappiness with the Maldives government’s current path of had been apparent from the start, with its statements repeatedly calling upon Yameen to abide with Supreme Court’s February 1 order.
Meanwhile, Maldivian opposition leader and former President Mohamed Nasheed, who is currently in India to attend a Bangalore literature festival, met with Indian defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman on the sidelines on Sunday. This is the first meeting of Nasheed, who has been in self-exile since December 2015, with a senior Indian cabinet minister in recent months.
Nasheed’s informal meeting with Indian defence minister would certainly raise eyebrows, especially since the former president had asked for a military presence from India after Yameen announced a state of emergency.
— Mohamed Nasheed (@MohamedNasheed) February 18, 2018
Till now, India had not sent any warships near Maldivian waters. China, which has invested heavily in infrastructure projects in the strategically-located nation, has termed the recent crisis as internal affairs which can be solved by the various political parties.
Last week, the geopolitical advisory company Stratfor had reported based on Chinese state media articles that a Chinese surface action group, comprising of a transport dock, destroyer and frigate, had entered the eastern Indian ocean nation.
Indian naval sources confirmed the movement of the Chinese vessels,but could not state whether they were on a routine deployment. There had been no reports with India of any pre-scheduled port visits by Chinese naval vessels to Maldives.
The sources added that the Chinese ships had changed their course a few days ago and were not going in the previously reported direction. Indian ships patrolling within territorial waters had been moved to allow close monitoring the movement of the Chinese vessels. However, sources added, that there was no way of confirming the intent of the Chinese naval movement and whether it had any link with the current crisis in Maldives.
Maldives got a rap from its immediate neighbour Sri Lanka, with the Sri Lankan speaker Karu Jayasuriya writing a letter to his Maldivian counterpart Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed.
In his capacity as chair of the Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians, Jayasuriya said that “democratic norms and parliamentary practices appear to be in peril at this time in the Maldives”.
“Recent developments in the Maldives including the declaration of emergency and arrests, and disrespect of the Supreme Court’s rulings, threaten constitutional principles, and undermine the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. These developments also impact negatively on credible and inclusive pre-election processes with the full participation of all political parties in the country,” wrote the Sri Lankan speaker.
Sources said that Maldives had also wanted to send foreign minister Mohamed Asim to Sri Lanka as a special envoy. But Colombo had reportedly declined.
When India had said that it could receive the Maldivian special envoy, New Delhi had pointed out that external affairs minister was out of the country, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also not available due to a foreign tour.
Note: This article has been updated with Monday’s developments in parliament and letter from Sri Lankan speaker.