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Maldives: Big relief for Muizzu as Supreme Court suspends amendment simpifying impeachment bid

After seven lawmakers resigned from Parliament last year to assume positions in Muizzu’s administration, the opposition MDP amended standing orders so less votes are needed to impeach the President. The Attorney General’s Office filed on January 28 to suspend the amendment.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Male Published on: February 08, 2024 22:20 IST
Maldives, Supreme Court, impeachment motion, Mohamed Muizzu
Image Source : PTI (FILE) Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu.

Male: Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu got a big relief on Thursday as the Supreme Court suspended a recent amendment to the opposition-controlled Parliament's standing orders that would have made it easier for opposition lawmakers to impeach the president and the vice president, according to local media. The government had approached the apex court after the main opposition announced its plan to impeach Muizzu earlier this year.

Last month, the opposition-controlled House had recently amended its standing orders to make it easier to submit an impeachment motion by lowering the number of votes required for it. The constitution declares that an impeachment motion against the president or vice president requires the vote of two-thirds of the members of Parliament. 

The Attorney General’s Office filed the case with the Supreme Court over the amendment on January 28. It also asked for an injunction to suspend the amendment until the court makes a final ruling. The case was heard by the full bench of the Supreme Court on Thursday.

What is the amendment?

Describing the chain of events in the run-up to the development, the Election Commission had decided against holding by-elections when seven lawmakers resigned from Parliament in November to assume top positions in President Muizzu’s administration, saying that the parliamentary elections are to be held soon, according to Maldivian media reports.

In this situation, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – which holds a majority in the Parliament – amended Parliament’s standing orders so that vacated seats aren’t counted when determining the total number of MPs. This meant that only 54 votes were required to impeach President Muizzu, instead of the previous 58, as the total number of MPs would be counted as 80 instead of 87 after the amendment.

In January, the MDP and the Democrats announced an alliance to work together in the Parliament and hence have 56 MPs between them; 43 from the MDP, and 13 from the Democrats. They, therefore, had the power to impeach the president if the amendment was implemented. 

On January 28, the Attorney General’s Office had filed the case, the same day when the MDP-Democrats alliance stalled the approval of three members of President Muizzu’s cabinet and clashes broke out in the House between pro-government MPs and opposition lawmakers following differences over the approval of four members of the cabinet. The next day the MDP had announced that it planned to submit a motion to impeach President Muizzu and that it already started gathering signatures for the same.

What did the court say?

Justice Azmiralda Zahir, Justice Mahaz Ali Zahir, and Justice Husnu Al Suood found in favour of issuing the injunction, citing the need to maintain the status quo. However, Justice Aisha Shujoon Mohamed and Justice Mohamed Ibrahim found there were no grounds to issue the injunction, citing that the case was submitted a month after the passage of the amendment, according to a report by a Maldivian news portal.

On January 24, calling India the “most long-standing ally,” the MDP and the Democrats expressed concern about the Muizzu government’s "anti-India stance". Muizzu's pro-China stance intensified when he struck several agreements with Beijing and sought to distance himself from India.

After enjoying long-standing friendly ties, relations soured between India and the Maldives when Muizzu won the November elections riding on an 'India Out' campaign. Muizzu asked India to withdraw its nearly 80 military personnel stationed there and declined a hydrographic project with New Delhi. Muizzu vowed to stop the emergency helicopter services facilitated by India and fixed March 2024 as the deadline.

The Maldives is India's key maritime neighbour in the IOR and occupies a special place in its initiatives like SAGAR' (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the Neighbourhood First Policy' of the Narendra Modi government.

At present, around 80 Indian military personnel are in the Maldives primarily to operate two advanced light helicopters and an aircraft that have carried out several humanitarian missions. The Indian platforms have been providing humanitarian and medical evacuation services to the people of the Maldives for the last few years but Muizzu remains undeterred in his goal to remove the troop presence, claiming to eradicate foreign military presence.

India also expressed concern towards the Maldives allowing a Chinese research vessel to dock on its shores, which New Delhi says can be used for "spying" and "research" purposes in the Maldives Special Economic Zone. The MEA on Thursday said India has been keeping a close eye on the movement of the ship. 

(with inputs from PTI)

ALSO READ | Indian military personnel in Maldives to be replaced by 'competent technical personnel': MEA


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