Maldivian Parliament Votes to Extend State of Emergency
The Maldivian Parliament voted to extend the nation’s state of emergency by 30 days on Tuesday, February 20, following the request of President Abdulla Yameen. Though the original 15-day state of emergency was set to expire on Tuesday, President Yameen stated that ongoing threats to national security necessitated its continuance.
The decision comes amidst frequent clashes between members of the Maldives’ ruling party, the Progressive Party of Maldives, and members of the opposition.
President Yameen imposed the initial state of emergency on February 5th, when the Supreme Court of the Maldives decided to overturn criminal convictions against nine opposition members.
One of the nine members of the opposition whose conviction was revoked was Former Maldivian President, Mohamed Nasheed, now an outspoken member of the opposition. When the court overturned the decision, it declared that his 2015 trial was unconstitutional.
Consequentially, President Yameen declared the state of emergency to move against the Supreme Court decision. On February 5th, he sent the Maldivian army to arrest the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, as well as another high-ranking judge and his estranged half-brother, Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
The three remaining members of the Supreme Court later decided to annul the decision to release the prisoners.
President Yameen’s reaction to the Supreme Court decision unleashed a series of protests led by opposition members who chastised the president for attempting to consolidate power unconstitutionally.
The Parliament’s decision to extend the state of emergency by 30 days is a source of further concern for members of the opposition.
The decision was made at a session of Parliament in which 38 members of the 85-person Parliament, all hailing from the ruling party, unanimously voted for the state of emergency’ prolongation.
However, according to the now exiled Former President Nasheed, the Constitution stipulates that a minimum of 43 members of the Parliament must be present in order to vote.
Speaker Abdulla Maseeh introduced the vote on Tuesday by saying the Parliament would be voting under a procedure that does not require the constitutionally mandated quorum.
Yet, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, current leader of the opposition coalition, cited the state of emergency as “illegal.” “Yameen has, in effect, hijacked the entire state and is ruling the Maldives like a military dictator,” stated Solih.
Despite the unrest caused by the state of emergency, President Yameen’s office promises that maintaining rule of law is its top priority. A statement released by President Yameen’s office declared that the emergency, “shall only apply to those alleged to have carried out illegal activities - it shall not apply to otherwise law abiding residents of, or visitors to, the Maldives.”
Even with President Yameen’s attempts to quell dissatisfaction amongst his people, global leaders outside the Maldives worry about the potential threat to democracy his administration poses.
India, for example, has encouraged the Maldives to release the nine opposition members, while China and the UK have issued travel advisories to the nation. Additionally, earlier this month, the United Nations human rights chief called the state of emergency “an assault on democracy.”
With Maldives’ state of political turmoil growing, it remains to be seen whether or not the government makes efforts to check President Yameen’s power and remove restrictions on free speech.