Saturday, August 2, 2008

MDP, Conservatives Call For Protection For Gayoom Post-Presidency

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and visiting UK MP Richard Spring, from the Conservative Party, this week renewed calls for President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to be offered security protection after his presidency concludes.

According to information minister Mohamed Nasheed, writing on his personal blog, Spring raised the issue with Gayoom when the two met on 30 July.

And Spring and MDP presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed (Anni) told MDP supporters at the party’s Harugé centre on Thursday the MDP would support reconciliation if it came to power.

But Anni would not comment on speculation that the proposal was aimed at offering Gayoom, who has ruled the country for 30 years, an incentive to withdraw his candidacy ahead of the country’s first multi-party presidential elections, due by 10 October.

Urging the party to follow the example of past South African leader Nelson Mandela, Spring said on Thursday: “He came out of jail and said there should be no punishment against those who abused him.”

Anni said the gesture aimed to show “we are not in politics for a vendetta...former presidents should be able to live in dignity.” He had first publicly raised the idea of protection for Gayoom in December in an apparent attempt to appeal to moderates within the MDP.

Asked whether he would call for legal immunity for the President, or just security protection, Anni said he “cannot offer anything above the law”.

The country’s new constitution, which Gayoom has said he will ratify on 7 August, does not offer former presidents legal immunity, though it does give a limited immunity from civil cases whilst a president is in office.

Information minister Nasheed said on his blog that Spring had told him “the ‘outgoing’ president [should] be provided with security for life as regards his person and his civil liberties”, adding that Spring emphasised Anni should communicate this personally to Gayoom prior to elections.

Former president Ibrahim Nasir, who conceded the presidency voluntarily in 1978, was sentenced by Gayoom in 1981 for alleged corruption and planning a coup attempt against the Gayoom administration.

He was later pardoned, but has lived in Singapore since his presidency ended, never returning to the Maldives.

Nasir’s brother-in-law Ahmed Naseem and others were sentenced to life in 1981 over the alleged coup attempt, though they were later released, whilst Gayoom and other political leaders held meetings to denounce Nasir’s presidency.

Presidential candidate for the Social Liberal Party Ibrahim Ismail (Ibra) said, “If [the MDP] is referring to the witch hunt that happened after Gayoom came to power, I would be inclined to agree that there shouldn’t be something like this.”

But he cautioned, “If an individual wants to seek redress [against Gayoom], and has justifiable grounds, then the courts should be handling it.”

The Gayoom government has been repeatedly accused of human rights abuses, whilst opposition activists including Anni have previously been named as Amnesty International prisoners of conscience.

Anni is one of six declared presidential candidates; others are Ibra, Umar Naseer of the Islamic Democratic Party, independent candidates Dr Hassan Saeed and Idham Muiz Adnan, and Gayoom.

Constitution Sent Back To President With Ministries Clause Unchanged

corrected version of the country’s new constitution was returned to President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on Friday, Speaker of the Special Majlis (constitutional assembly) Gasim Ibrahim told Minivan News on Saturday.

But no change has been made on the only substantive issue raised by the President in a letter sent last week, over clause 116 of the document, which requires parliamentary approval for the creation of new government ministries by the President.

“He only requested an explanation [on the clause]... it was not an administrative mistake or anything like this,” Gasim said.

The President has pledged to ratify the constitution in 7 August, but had asked for a response to his letter first.

New Ministries

Gayoom had asked for clarification from Gasim on why the clause in the final version required parliament to approve the creation of any new ministries, despite the Special Majlis having previously voted not to require such approval.

But Gayoom said in a press conference last Tuesday he would ratify the document on 7 August, whether or not the issues he had raised were resolved.

Gasim and chair of the constitutional drafting committee Ibrahim Ismail (Ibra) appear to have stood firm over the clause, one of many in the new constitution which remove powers from the presidency.


Gasim indicated the explanation he offered Gayoom on clause 116 reflected that given by Ibra last week on his personal blog.

Ibra wrote that as it was drafted, the constitution originally specified parliament should have the power to create ministries.

“The [constitutional] consultant, Professor Schmeiser, advised strongly that in any democracy...the ultimate power to create cabinet posts lies with the parliament,” Ibra said.

But the Special Majlis accepted an amendment “which was very ambiguous (in the context of the constitution), said the president had the power to create ministries, but he should submit the decision to parliament,” according to Ibra.

Prior to the final “block vote” on the constitution, the clause was changed to require parliamentary approval, because in any case the word “submit” implies such approval, Ibra said. Others have translated the wording as “provide information to parliament”, however.

Because of a secretarial error, Ibra argued, the change to the clause was not highlighted when the constitution was circulated to Special Majlis members before the block vote.


Ibra also said the clause should combat cronyism, which “has ultimately led to the creation of over 20 ministries to manage a population of 300,000 people, and the appointment of persons to over 100 ‘cabinet and other senior level’ posts, culminating in a monthly wage bill of over Rf 6 million [US $469,000] for the taxpayer.”

The country’s current constitution assigns most powers to the President, including those of creating ministries and appointing ministers.

The new constitution introduces separation of powers in the country for the first time, and vastly reduces the authority of the presidency, often expanding the role of parliament instead.

“I have focused on removing his powers bit by bit, and doing it systematically,” Ibra said on his blog.

When the constitution was completed by the Special Majlis in June, former foreign minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed criticised it as “a straitjacket for Gayoom”.

But independent MP and human rights lawyer Husnu Suood said, “We achieved 99 per cent of what we hoped for.”


Gayoom said in a press conference last Tuesday he would ratify the constitution on 7 August.

It had been completed by the Special Majlis on 26 June, but government had argued final reviews by the cabinet and attorney general were required, plus the passing of two new laws in parliament, before the constitution could come into effect.

After four years of work developing the document, this further delay sparked complaints from the opposition, culminating in a protest by over 1,000 people on 21 July.

The European Union (EU) also issued a statement on 25 July expressing “great concern” over delays to democratic reforms, noting the importance of holding multi-party presidential elections under the new constitution.

The transitional chapter of the constitution requires elections to be held by 10 October, with an independent interim elections commission due to come into place first.

We will establish a university:MDP

The Main opposition MDP has said that they will be establishing the first university of Maldives when their government assumes duties from 11 November 2008. This was said by MDP's Parliamentary Leader Hassan Afeef when he spoke at a meeting held in honour of the visiting British conservative party member. Afeef said, there had been too much talk in presidential addresses and at the opening of the Majlis and now it is too late for President Gayoom's Government to seize this opportunity.

" Singapore attained independence with us. See the difference between our two countries. Singapore does not have that many resources., We are blessed with enormous marine resources, beautiful islands. But just see the vast difference between us. " comparing Singapore's dramatic development, Afeef said.

He questioned, what has the Government done with all the wealth it has earned. He agreed there is some development, but health services and living conditions should have been much better, Afeef said. When we are embracing change, everyone must think about this seriously, a change which has not happened in 30 years cannot be achieved in 5 years, Afeef warned. He asked the people to think carefully when they vote for a president.

Afeef went on to say Maldivian people are not benefiting from the wealth of the nation although the GDP is high and MDP will ensure the wealth of the nation is fairly distributed and people enjoy a better life under an MDP lead Government. He assured that they will provide imroved health and education in the country. MDP does not want people to remain destitutes and go to neighbouring countries for every major treatment.

Majlis delegation attends 54th CPA meeting

A delegation from the People's Majlis comprising of 2 Raa Atoll members, Ali Waheed and Ibrahim Shaheed Zaki and Secretary General of the Majlis Ahmed Mohamed is visiting Kuala Lumpur to attend the 54th Annual Meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, CPA. The 10 day meeting will deliberate on issues of environment development and security and on widening the role of parliament in these matters.

Along side the main meeting, there will be a meeting for small states of the Commonwealth which will deal with sustainable development, water and waste management, conflicts of interest, corruption, and democratic elections.

The Maldives delegation to this meeting will be headed by Raa member Shaheed Zaki who will make a presentation at the meeting. " We will present a paper at the meeting. Conflict of interest, corruption are major problems facing the region. We have highlighted on the situation of these problems in our country. We have also looked at ways of countering these problems." Saheed Zaki told Miadhu daily before leaving for the meeting. Maldives became a member of CPA in 2000.

Mohamed Shihab likely to be new Speaker

When President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ratifies the new Constitution on coming Thursday, 7 August, the People's Majlish will assume much wider responsibilities and powers including taking up some urgent transitional matters that have to be decided for the implementation of the Constitution. One of the big tasks of the Majlis would be to elect a Speaker and Deputy Speaker from among the members of the Majlis. Present Speaker Ahmed Zahir has done a superb job during the past 4 years. Zahir is a veteran parliamentarian who has a reputation of being one of the most vocal members famours for his oratary skills and eloquence. Zahir is appointed by the President and unless President freshly appoints him as a member, the Majlis cannot elect him under the new Constitution. There are rumours Zahir may soon be appointed a President's member so that he can be reelected as the Speaker for the remaing six months of the Majlis under the transitional provisions..Some analysts believe Zahir may be DRP's favoured candidate for the post and there is a strong possibility of getting the required majority for him with the support of other members.

There are rumours popular Male' member and former MDP senior member Mohamed Shihab is also vying for the high profile post. It appears, Shihab who has been a member of the Majlis for 25 and who is also a highly vocal and respected member may have a better chance to become the new Speaker. Although Shihab has recently resigned from MDP, he is popular with the opposition members and independents. Shihab has lost his Government job of Managing Director of Maldives Posts since assuming a proactive role in the opposition MDP two years ago. But after resigning from MDP, he has said he does not want join any parrties indicating his desire to remain independent.

Shihab's revered father late Ibrahim Shihab was also Speaker for several years and he was widely known as the golden tounge of Maldives for his extraordinary eloquence. Ibrahim Shihab was a much respected politician who held many powerful ministerial posts. He was one of the Vice Presidents during the last months of former President Ibrahim Nasir. Ibrahim Shihab was fallen out of President Gayoom's loyalists in the early part of Gayoom's presidency, but because of the superior brilliance of the veteran politician, Ibrahim Shihab soon became one of the senior ministers in Gayoom's cabinet.