New Delhi: As the Maldives parliament went under lockdown to decide a no-confidence motion against the speaker, former Maldivian president and opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed was getting very worried.
From Colombo, Sri Lanka, Nasheed had been on the phone trying to rally the troops for the crucial vote – which was the first gauntlet thrown down by the new opposition alliance against President Abdulla Yameen by trying to topple speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed.
This was an important test for the alliance to launch a serious challenge after the signing of a formal accord between Nasheed, former Maldives dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Jumhoree party leader Gasim Ibrahim and Adhaalath Party head Sheikh Imran Abdulla. The result of the vote will be a vital augur of the opposition’s ability to challenge an entrenched Yameen in the 2018 presidential elections.
This morning, the no-confidence motion was introduced by Faris Maumoon, the eldest son of Gayoom and the nephew of Yameen.
According to local media reports, house majority leader Ahmed Nihan first proposed a roll call vote, claiming it was to avoid any allegations of abuse through the electronic voting system. He later implied that the opposition was trying to “hack” the system.
He proposed that each MP stand and explain her/his vote before casting it today.
— Mv Democracy Network (@MDN_mv) March 27, 2017
Majlis ge Electronic Voting System "Hack Kohggen" gannan ulhunu Gandu Fail veema #Coalition Beygaraar Vehjje! pic.twitter.com/D6kSVBaabi
— Ahmed Nihan (@ahmed_nihan) March 27, 2017
The opposition immediately galvanised – suspicious that the change in voting procedure was to avoid any defections from the ruling side.
Gayoom tweeted that there had to be “evident” defect in the system before going for a manual roll call.
Majlis rules require electronic voting unless there is an EVIDENT defect in the system. Therefore no roll call vote can be taken today.
— Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (@maumoonagayoom) March 27, 2017
“The government has tampered with the electronic voting machines and now calling for roll call of MPs,” Nasheed told The Wire. “The roll call is like the inquisition in which MPs will be asked individually for their vote,” he said, agitatedly.
Voting through the electronic system would have been more comfortable as it was “voting in a group,” Nasheed pointed out, rather than manually where the presiding officer would call on each member to announce their choice.
With the speaker unable to caste his own vote and one MP in jail, the no-confidence motion required 42 votes to be approved or rejected. The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives has 48 members of parliament – but it lost four MPs who had previously announced their plans to join the opposition. However, the ruling party’s ally, Maldives Development Alliance had six MPs, though it was in the process of expelling one parliamentarian for announcing his plan to vote ‘yes’ to the motion.
Besides, the opposition parties have 29 MPs, with Maldivian Democratic Party alone having 21 elected members in the Majlis, the Maldives’ parliament.
With the voting procedure changed, Nasheed, who lives in the UK under political asylum, was afraid that the Yameen government would be able to get their way again. “There is no rule that says that there can be a roll call for voting like this,” he asserted.
Nasheed felt that the Maldives government was emboldened due to the lack of interest from outside. “We are really worried that the government is interfering… No one from the international community is observing,” he said, in a distressed tone. “The government will be able to rig the vote.”
At the start of the session this morning, reporters and the public were banned from witnessing the debate on the no-confidence motion.
Public, Civil society and media disallowed from entering the Parliament. TM and other NGOS asked to leave parliament premises.
— Transparency MV (@TransparencyMV) March 27, 2017
When asked why foreign diplomats, especially from the West, have stayed away, Nasheed said, “I don’t know. You have to ask them”.
As the clock ticked towards the time for the vote, the opposition MPs huddled together to find a way out.
A Joint parliamentary meeting of opposition MDP, JP, AP, PPM at Majlis. pic.twitter.com/rdTULNMw95
— Ali Nizar (@DhekunuNizar) March 27, 2017
For now, Nasheed does not want to look beyond this vote – even with the possibility of the no-confidence motion being defeated looming ahead. “I am just very focused on this now,” he asserted.
The decision of the roll call was taken through the electronic voting system – which recorded 45 votes in favour of manual voting. However, a printout of the result showed that votes had been cast in the name of the jailed MP, Ahmed Mahloof, as well as the deputy speaker, Moosa Manik, who was presiding over the house.
The deputy speaker adjourned the proceedings, even as opposition MPs argued and shouted loudly against the legitimacy of the results.
When the house reassembled, the deputy speaker’s podium was surrounded by half a dozen security personnel. After he named 13 MPs to be removed from the premises, the live TV feed went off.
At that time, the house majority leader broadcast the eviction of the 13 parliamentarians live on his Facebook page.
After they were evicted, all the other opposition MPs walked out of parliament.
Therefore, when the deputy speaker called for the manual votes – 48 votes were against the motion, and none for. The live television feed was restored during the roll call.
Outside the parliament, minority leader Ibrahim Solih and Gasim Ibrahim claimed that the vote was invalid. The MDP leader added that a no-confidence motion against the speaker would be re-submitted.
Faris Maumoon told local reporters that the change in the voting procedure from electronic voting to manual was the reason that there was no expected defections from the ruling party.
“If everyone votes together with the electronic system, it gives 30 seconds after voting to change the vote,” he said, as per the Maldives Independent.
Note: This story was updated after the vote.