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Troops evict opposition MPs from Maldives parliament

LiveMint logoLiveMint 27-03-2017 AFP

Male: Security forces physically ejected protesting members of Parliament (MPs) from the Maldives parliament on Monday in chaotic scenes during a failed opposition attempt to impeach the speaker and destabilise the president ahead of elections next year.

Lawmakers shouted and stood on their chairs and one tried to remove the speaker’s seat ahead of the impeachment vote, which came a day after exiled opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed announced a unity pact with the president’s powerful half-brother—the former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Nasheed had hoped that the surprise alliance with Gayoom, who is still nominally head of the ruling party, would provide enough parliamentary support to oust the speaker, but even with that deal the opposition Maldives Democratic party (MDP) apparently failed to win over enough MPs.

At least 13 opposition lawmakers were removed from parliament as a result of today’s ruckus and the rest walked out in protest before the vote, which the government then easily won. “Government brings in military to occupy the parliament chamber to obstruct and rig the no confidence vote on the Speaker,” Nasheed tweeted during the chaos in parliament.

Govt tampered with the Majlis voting system & are pushing for a roll call vote. Majlis SG must fix system; ensure vote proceeds as per rules

— Mohamed Nasheed (@MohamedNasheed)

The opposition leader became the Maldives’ first democratically-elected president in 2008, but was narrowly defeated in 2013 elections by current President Abdulla Yameen. Nasheed now lives in exile in London after he was convicted in 2015 on terrorism charges widely seen as politically motivated.

The public galleries were closed today and journalists were denied access to parliament, but photographs shared on social media showed chaotic scenes. Shortly after the impeachment vote, the MDP said police had raided its office in Male, confiscating loud hailers and promotional material.

Yameen has presided over a major crackdown on political dissent in the nation of 340,000 that has raised fears over its stability and dented its image as an island tourism paradise. Almost all key opposition leaders and a number of ruling party dissidents have either been jailed or fled into exile since he took office in a controversial run-off election against Nasheed.

Gayoom, who ruled the country for three decades before he was ousted in 2008, has agreed to work with the opposition MDP to free those convicted of politically motivated charges. Yesterday, he appealed to members of his Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) to break ranks with the president and vote with the opposition to remove the speaker, Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed.

“In order to enable Majlis to fulfil its mandate in a democratic manner, I appeal to all MPs to vote NO to Maseeh tomorrow. Nation First!” Gayoom tweeted.

What we saw in Majlis today was a total disgrace! The extent of govt's fear of a free vote. All the reason why we must overhaul the system!

— Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (@maumoonagayoom)

If Nasheed’s party had been able to win control of parliament, it could have overturned the law under which he was convicted, allowing him to return. Last month he said he would go back to the troubled Indian Ocean nation to run in 2018 presidential elections, but the failure to win a majority will make that more difficult. The Maldives constitution also bars Nasheed from being a candidate because of his criminal conviction.

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