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Gayoom’s coalition secures the key role of Speaker of parliament

The opposition coalition led by Maldives former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has just secured the key role of Speaker of the newly sworn in parliament. Abdulla Shahid, MP for Vaavu Felidhoo constituency, secured the seat with 42 votes, soundly defeating Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed’s candidate MP for Lhaviyani Hinnavaru constituency Ibrahim Mohamed Solih who got 33 votes.

The Parliament is even at this moment proceeding with the next item on its agenda, the election of the Deputy Speaker. MP for Alifu Dhaalu Maamigili constituency and leader of Jumhooree Party Gasim Ibrahim has proposed independent MP for Haa Dhaalu Kulhudhuffushi Mohamed Nasheed for the post of Deputy Speaker. MP for Meemu Dhiggaru Ahmed Nazim and deputy leader of People’s Alliance is the opposition coalitions’s candidate for the post, while President’s Nasheed’s ruling party Maldivian Democratic Party is supporting its long time financier AAA company’s Ahmed Hamza, MP for Faafu Bileidhoo Constituency.

One important point to note in the ongoing proceedings is that the President Nasheed’s cousin by marriage Ibrahim Mohamed Solih received 8 votes more than the registered MDP MPs in the new parliament. In contrast, the opposition coalition managed to rustle up 7 additional votes. Sources report that MDP’s additional votes have been contributed by Gasim Ibrahim whose Jumhooree Party is one of MDP’s coalition partners in the struggling Nasheed Government. Gasim Ibrahim has reportedly struck a deal with President Nasheed to be re-appointed to the important post of Home Minister, the portfolio he vacated in a huff only 21 days after taking oath of office. Although Jumhooree Party has had a falling out with President Nasheed on several issues, both sides have engaged in intense negotiations at the President’s Office over the past few days. Gasim has also been the go-between for negotiations between President Nasheed and Dr. Hassan Saeed’s Qaumee Party which holds two seats in the new parliament. The deal that was committed by President Nasheed as the price for the Qaumee Party’s two votes for Ibrahim Mohamed Solih is not yet clear.

For the past six months, President Nasheed has been controlling the Home Ministry and the Maldives Police Force with pimp Defence Minister Ameen Faisal nominally placed as Acting Home Minister. Gasim had told press last week that Nasheed had refused to re-appoint him as Home Minister despite repeated demands by his party. In the deal struck between Nasheed and Gasim in the second round of last year’s presidential elections, Gasim’s Jumhooree party had funded Nasheed’ campaign in return for the promised portfolios of Home Minister, Attorney General, Tourism Minister and Religious Minister. In the fight between the two parties after the election, Nasheed recently sent Jumhooree Party’s Diyana Saeed packing from her post as Attorney General. It too is now looked after by a Nasheed stooge, DIK Ali Hashim, current Finance Minister. The deal hammered out between President Nasheed and Gasim in return for the key votes in parliament also includes Jumhooree Party hanging on to the important post of Attorney General.

In the run up to the elections, Gasim Ibrahim is reputed to have struck a deal with the opposition coalition Gayoom’s Dhivehi Raiyyithunge Party and People’s Alliance. However, this deal went sour when the opposition coalition refused to support Gasim Ibrahim’s bid for the post of Speaker of Parliament. Sources report that opposition leaders refused Gasim repeated requests, citing Gasim’s reneging of deals struck when DRP voted him in as Speaker of the Constitutional Assembly two years back. In the latter months of the Constitutional Assembly, Gasim Ibrahim worked actively against DRP and coordination with MDP using his powers as Speaker to bring in illegal amendments to the text of the constitution at the very last minute that were not formally passed by the Assembly.

The newly elected Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid hails from the family of Jameels, a family which has remained close to the rulership of the country from days of the monarchy. Reputed to be as wily as a fox, Shahid climbed to the powerful post of President’s Executive Secretary in the Gayoom regime in which post he has been alleged to have abused his powers to his private benefit. He is reputed to have extended many favours to big business in return for financial benefit. Although cases have not been brought to court, the most notorious allegations of corruption leveled by opposition against Shahid include illegal permits given for the redevelopment of Reethi Rah Resort by DRP Deputy Leader and its current controlling power Ahmed Thasmeen Ali; and of various resort deals struck in partnership with current Special Envoy Ibrahim Hussain Zaki and former leader of MDP Dr. Mohamed Munawwar.

Abdullah Shahid is reputed to be a shrewd businessman himself, financed by the Chaandhanee family and Athama Ibrahim Didi. Although removed form his post as Executive Secretary due to pressure form warring factions in Gayoom’s cabinet, Shahid remained Gayoom’s confidante and made his political comeback with a vengeance as Gayoom’s Foreign Minister in 2007. In last year’s presidential elections Shahid closely allied himself with the then upcoming power in DRP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, Gayoom’s running mate. The deal struck between the two was a DRP seat in Vaavu Atoll for Shahid in return for Shahid not engaging in a power struggle with Thasmeen within the DRP.

With Thasmeen as the DRP’s whip in parliament and Shahid as Speaker, it will be interesting to see whether Gayoom and PA Leader Yameen are able to move their agendas smoothly. Shahid and Yameen did not see eye to eye in their last days as colleagues on Gayoom’s cabinet, and Yameen’s increasing influence on DRP is being watched with trepidation by Thasmeen and his followers. The common belief as Yameen was brought in by Gayoom in order to handover DRP to him, something that would go against Thasmeen’s interests.

Seventy six members of the 77 member parliament took their oath of office today in front of Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed. The 77th parliamentary seat, the seat for the Thaa Thimarafushi constituency, remains empty, as its ballot pends a decision by the Maldives High Court as to the legality of the election there. The session being chaired by Shaviyani MP Mohamed Hussain is being marred by an epidemic of points of order being taken by MPs, a hallmark of the outgoing parliament. As Gayoom’s opposition coalition takes charge of the parliament, this demonstration of lack of cooperation between the different factions in parliament does not bode well for the Maldivian people as it heads deeper into a recession sunk by the Nasheed government’s continued mismanagement of the economy. Food shortages, rising commodity prices and decreasing standard of life have dogged Maldivians since Nasheed took power in November 2008.

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