Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Maldives; The Political Game Continues - It’s the Vice President Now

Anushree Ghisad, 
Research Intern, VIF

Maldives continues to grapple with ongoing political turmoil. The latest issue which has not let the spotlight shift from the country’s political crisis is the attempted removal of current Vice-President Dr.Mohamed Jameel Ahamed by the ruling alliance. The ruling coalition of Progressive Party of Maldives and Maldives Development Alliance (PPM-MDA) has submitted a ‘no-confidence motion’ against Mohamed Jameel, on grounds of ‘incompetence and disloyalty’. What is surprising in this development is the extension of support to government’s move by prominent opposition parties like Jambhoori Party (JP) and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). Mohamed Jameel has described this exercise as ‘constitutional coup in the guise of constitutional reforms’ and called on ‘friends of Maldives to step in as they understand what is happening.’ In his immediate response to this unexpected turn of events, Jameel, without informing the government, has fled to London via Sri Lanka, where he had gone extensively for medical treatment. The mandatory fourteen day notice period sent to Jameel under the constitutional provision ended on 13 July, 2015. Government has also declared its plan to appoint current tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Gafoor as the new Vice President.

What Compels VP’s Removal?

The first indication of Jameel’s impending removal from vice-presidency came from MP Ibrahim Sujaau who said, ‘We do not want a Vice-President to be a monument at the President’s office.’ While no coherent reason for such allegation was given, some PPM MPs clarified that Jameel had failed to publicly defend the government ahead of the opposition’s protest rally on May 1. Others vaguely allege that he had failed to show progress in the health and education sectors. One senior official accused Jameel of trying to build an independent power-base by spending time with independent MPs. None of the above charges have yet been substantiated and even if any one of these were true, should these be enough to move a no-confidence motion against him?

Clearly, President Yameen had Jameel’s removal as a priority and was waiting for an opportune moment. It may be recalled that Jameel had held important portfolios in Maumoon Gayoom’s regime and later co-founded the ‘New Maldives’ which led the opposition against the same regime. He had an open clash with current President in 2006 during the elections for DRP council. Later, he enjoyed a short stint in Nasheed’s government as Minister of Science and Technology, but is now currently with Yameen’s PPM. In this background, President Yameen does not see him as a close confidant and this could be a potential reason for Jameels’s proposed removal on grounds of ‘disloyalty and incompetence’. The questions that beg answer are, why was he not removed earlier and what has triggered the sudden need to rush through with it now? In any case, according to Maldivian Constitution, Vice President has to assist the President in the discharge of his duties and responsibilities [Article112 (a)]. It is only when the office of the President becomes vacant for any reason then the Vice President succeeds to the office of the President [Article 112 (d)]. This implies that VP assumes real powers only in absence of President.

A closer look would suggest that, in view of the above mentioned constitutional provision, President Yameen would prefer to have a trusted ally as his vice president in the event his prolonged absence from duty. Government believes that the current minister for tourism Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Gafoor fits the bill. This argument is strengthened by continuing reports in the media that President Yameen requires urgent medical attention including a possible brain surgery, for which he is set to fly abroad soon after Maldives’ Independence Day on July 26. While these reports have not been confirmed by the government, former president Mohamed Nasheed has been raising concerns over President’s health since October 2014. It is difficult to ascertain the veracity of these reports but if he really were to go abroad, he would not risk bequeathing his powers to an undependable person like Jameel. What is striking here is the clarity and dogged efforts with which PPM is promoting Adeeb as next VP. In MP Ibrahim Sujaau’s words, ‘Our ‘target’ is to make Adeeb the VP before July 26.’

Measures Adopted to Achieve ‘The Target’

Thirty three year old Ahmed Adeeb is the current tourism minister and crony of President Yameen. A major stumbling block in his appointment as VP is the provision under article 112 (c) of the constitution under which the Vice Presidential candidate must be at least thirty five years of age. This would render Adeeb ineligible for the post. On June 25, 2015, this obstacle was sought to be removed through the first Constitutional Amendment. Besides, under article 100 (c) the People’s Majlis may establish a committee to investigate the issue raised in any resolution calling for removal of the President or Vice President. Now, the ruling alliance wants to amend the Majlis standing orders doing away with the requirement of investigation of charges. Accordingly, a parliamentary sub-committee on June 27 approved changes to the People’s Majlis rules of procedure to fast track the removal process. Under the new rules, parliament can vote on a no-confidence motion in the Vice President without an investigation. Both these measures were extensively adopted to achieve the desired ‘target’.

Where do Nasheed & Gasim Figure in the Game?

Article 100 (c) of Constitution says that ‘A resolution to remove the President or Vice President from office [as specified in article (a)] shall only be passed if it receives a two-thirds majority of the total membership of the People’s Majlis’. This boils down to 57 votes of the current 85-member Majlis, where ruling alliance holds 48 seats. This is where Nasheed & Gasim entered the game. Mohamed Nasheed’s MDP and Gasim Ibrahim’s JP hold 22 and 11 seats respectively in Majlis. Their support becomes critical for securing the required two thirds majority to pass the no confidence resolution and to pass the Constitutional Amendment to lower the age criteria for VP to facilitate Adeeb’s candidature.

Big Game – The ‘Secret Deal’

This led to intense political bargaining. Yameen seems to have been accordingly advised to soften his stance on Nasheed and Gasim to persuade them to support his plans. What lends credibility to the theory of a possible ‘secret deal’ with them is the fact that Nasheed, who was sentenced to jail for thirteen years, was shifted to three-day house arrest, further extended to eight weeks. It is worth noting that earlier Yameen had not shown any flexibility towards Nasheed even in the face of mounting international pressure. Following this, MDP announced its support for the Constitutional Amendment and VP’s removal, citing ‘compromise is a very important part in democracy.’ MDP has decided to begin talks with the government, without insisting on Nasheed’s participation. Having done the ‘give’ part of the deal, MDP is demanding withdrawal of charges against opposition politicians and around 400 supporters arrested since Nasheed’s arrest.

As regards Gasim, Government had also issued a US$90.4million fine on Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group and had frozen the accounts of its several subsidiary companies. This stance has been partly reversed and freeze on Gasim’s account was removed in last week of June. These should pave the way for the plans to be implemented.

Conclusion

Considering all the possibilities, Jameel’s removal and Adeeb’s election as new VP doesn’t appear to be a distant one. It can well happen before 26 July as planned by President Yameen. However hard his ‘friends’ find this to digest these manipulative moves of the ruling alliance; technically it would remain within the bounds of constitutionality. In the game of hard politics, the thin line demarcating ethics and opportunism is fast disappearing. But the real concern is whether Maldives was fast descending into some obscure form of authoritarianism?


Published Date: 21st July 2015, Image Source: http://www.sun.mv
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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