Joint Statement: Maldives Military Removes Opposition MPs from Parliament Ahead of Key Vote

Joint Statement

27 March 2017, Male’:The joint opposition parliamentarians of the ruling party, Maldivian Democratic Party, Jumhooree Party and Adhaalath Party condemned the increasingly autocratic regime of President Abdulla Yameen today, following disgraceful scenes in the People’s Majlis (parliament) in which members of the military forcibly removed opposition MPs ahead of a vote of no confidence against Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed.

Thirteen opposition Members of Parliament were forcibly removed by military officers. MPs were manhandled, dragged and disproportionate force was used to forcefully move them out of the chambers by the military. All of the other opposition-aligned MPs then walked out of parliament in protest.

With no opposition, the government won the vote with 48 votes in favour of keeping the Speaker. Forty two votes are required to carry a motion of no confidence against the Speaker. However, even with blatant regime intimidation, the government’s share of the vote in parliament appears to have collapsed. Until recently the government was comfortably able to command 61 votes in its favour.

It was clear early on Monday morning that President Yameen had no intention of allowing parliamentarians a free or fair vote. Riot police had barricaded the parliament and refused to allow members of the press, NGOs or the public from attending. The public gallery was filled with soldiers in plainclothes throughout the day’s proceedings. Live feed of the parliamentary proceeding was cut off during the most of the session.

During the debate over the Speaker, ruling party parliamentary leader Ahmed Nihan called for a vote against the speaker to be conducted via a ‘roll-call’, rather than the normal electronic voting system.

A roll-call vote means MPs have to say, one by one, whether they are for or against a motion. Unlike the electronic voting system, where MPs are permitted 30 seconds to change their vote, a roll call prevents MPs from assessing the way the vote is going before casting their final ballot. A roll-call considerably raises the stakes for pro-government MPs who defy the ruling party whip.

Under parliamentary procedures, a roll-call is only permitted if there is a defect to the electronic voting system. During grave disorder on the parliament floor, with many MPs out of their seats protesting the regime’s attempts to undermine the vote, the Deputy Speaker called a vote on whether to have a roll-call.

In a moment of great farce, MPs then voted with their electronic voting system, claimed by them as defective, on whether the electronic voting system should be abandoned because it is defective. Opposition MPs witnessed pro-government MPs running around the Majlis chamber casting fraudulent votes with other MP’s voting machines.

MP Ahmed Mahloof, who is currently serving prison time in Maafushi Jail, was recorded as having voted in the roll-call vote. Deputy Speaker Reeko Moosa, as Chair of today’s proceedings, and therefore not permitted to vote in the proceedings, was also recorded as having voted.

Deputy Speaker Moosa then declared the parliament had voted in favour of the roll-call. Protesting opposition MPs were then removed from the chamber by the military, and the Deputy Speaker held the vote of no-confidence against the Speaker without an opposition MP present. Inexplicably, MPs were handed down the decision of their vote on piece of paper written “no” to the motion, while “yes” to the motion were not given.

At a press briefing on Monday afternoon, Minority Leader Ibrahim Solih MP and Jumhoory Party president Qasim Ibrahim MP and Faris Maumoon of the ruling party called the vote null and void, pointing out that it was conducted in clear breach of parliamentary rules. Solih said the no-confidence motion against the Speaker will be resubmitted.

Commenting on the chaos in parliament, Minority Leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih MP said:

“Today we witnessed the disgraceful spectacle of President Yameen’s regime rigging the vote of no confidence against the Speaker.

“The ruling party’s parliamentary vote has collapsed, and they can only win by rigging the system and using the military to remove dissenting MPs.”

Qasim Ibrahim, Jumhooree Party Leader said:

“It is our duty to remove the Speaker and ensure the integrity of the parliament. We are committed to this cause and cannot be intimidated by strong-arm tactics”

Ahmed Faris Maumoon, MP, Progressive Party of Maldives

“Taking the vote in clear contravention of Parliamentary procedures proves what we have been saying about how the Parliament is being run under current Speaker Maseeh”

Anara Naeem, MP, Adhaalath Party

“The entire process was in violation of parliament’s mandate. Military removed opposing MPs, barred the public, NGOs and media and voted in direct contravention of the Standing Orders. The vote cannot be deemed valid “

Police also raided the MDP’s main office in Male’ on Monday and confiscated speakers and a sound system. Three individuals were arrested and pepper spray was used against people who gathered near the MDP main office in Male’.

Ahead of the vote, government officials including the Majority Leader openly threatened journalists, and opposing MPs. Faris Maumoon was summoned to the police several times last week and bank accounts of Qasim Ibrahim’s family business were frozen in an apparently politically motivated move by the tax authority.