Maldives President Nasheed yesterday removed his Communications and Civil Aviation Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed. No explanation was given by the President for his arbitrary action. However, when questioned by press, Presidential Press Secretary said that Jameel had been sacked in order to make room for another Minister. Current Minister of State for Civil Aviation Mahmood Raazee has been nominated by President Nasheed for parliamentary approval in lieu of Jameel.
President Nasheed yesterday also nominated Mohamed Shihab as Home Minister. Mohamed Shihab was the previous MP for Male’ and Speaker of Parliament in the interim parliament. The Home Minister’s portfolio has been vacant since Gasim Ibrahim resigned from the post 21 days after taking oath of office. Gasim Ibrahim, leader of Jumhooree Party (JP), resigned citing differences of opinions with President Nasheed, and Nasheed’s executive decisions as against national interest. Shihab’s nomination as Home Minister keeps this portfolio within JP. In the deal struck between President Nasheed and JP, Nasheed promised them the key portfolios of Home Minister, Tourism Minister, Attorney General and Religious Affairs Minister. In return, JP funded Nasheed’s bid for the second round of presidential elections 2008. Gasim Ibrahim is also reported to have demanded the Finance Minister’s portfolio for JP, but been rejected. It should be noted however that Shihab was a leading member of President Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party, in fact he was MDP whip in parliament till he joined JP.
However, yesterday’s cabinet nominations took away the Attorney General’s portfolio from JP. President Nasheed yesterday nominated former MDP lead lawyer and activist Husnu Suood as Attorney General. Husnu Suood, President Nasheed’s classmate and crony, had distanced himself from MDP last year, when the MDP’s eye turned to the Chief Justice’s seat. He has however been representing MDP in court throughout this time. Husnu Suood is also Prosecutor General Ahmed Muizzu’s long time business partner in their joint legal firm, Muizzu Suood and Co. Muizzu himself is President Nasheed’s classmate and close friend. The Attorney General’s portfolio was vacated this month went President Nasheed sent JP’s Diyana Saeed packing from the post.
Civil Aviation Minister Jameel’s removal from office is seen as part of the new deal struck between President Nasheed, JP and another of his coalition partner’s in government, Qaumee Party. Qaumee Party (QP) is headed by Dr. Hassan Saeed, failed presidential candidate in round one of the 2008 presidential elections. In return for its important two votes in the new parliament, QP is speculated to have been promised the key post of Chief Justice. Their candidate, Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, ex-Civil Aviation Minister. Under the 2008 constitution, the Chief Justice is head of the third power in the democracy, the Judiciary. QP still holds one ministerial portfolio in the Nasheed government, that of Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed. Ahmed Shaheed in MDP Chairman Mariya Didi’s brother in law.
The rapid changes to President Nasheed’s cabinet, symptomatic of an unstable government, a matter of great concern to the citizens. The coalition between Nasheed’s MDP, JP, QP, Social Liberal Party (SLP) and the religious fundamental Adhaalath Party has shown signs of instability since day 1. The political fight between MDP, JP and QP for dominance in cabinet, has been exacerbated by Adhaalath Party’s independent religious control over the 100% muslim country. The SLP too has had a falling out with MDP, as shown by the fact that SLP leader Ibrahim Ismail and MDP Chairperson Mariya Didi contested the same parliamentary seat in the recent elections. Both candidates hammered at each other with heated words during their parliamentary campaigns.
The bid by President Nasheed and his coalition partners to hijack the Judiciary violates the tenets of democracy. The separation of the three powers, the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary are democratic principles embodied in the new constitution. It is alarming to see this being violated without being given a chance to be practiced in action. However, it is also not surprising, given that the President Nasheed’s coalition has lost control of the parliament. The first defeat was when MDP was thrashed at the polls as the opposition coalition led by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom took 35 seats in the 77 member parliament. Its second defeat was when the same coalition bagged the posts of Speaker and deputy Speaker of Parliament earlier this week. The opposition coalition consists of Dhivehi Raiyyithunge Party (DRP) led by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and People’s Alliance Party (PA) lead by Abdulla Yameen.
The DRP/PA coalition is also reported to be negotiating amongst itself for nominees to key posts in the Judiciary and independent commissions and independent offices. Including that of Chief Justice, there remain the rest of the Supreme Court. Appointments to the posts of the interim Chief Justice and the Supreme Court show some element of cooperation between the two warring coalitions, both in nomination and in voting patterns on the floor. However, with President Nasheed aggressively on the warpath with his systemic persecution of opposition leaders, this same spirit of cooperation is unlikely to be there.
The greater democracy promised by the new constitution will die a quick death if the Judiciary is hijacked by any of the warring coalitions. The consequences of such an outcome are far and many. It is to be hoped that saner heads will prevail, and the Chief Justice post will be given to an experienced legal scholar such as Dr. Mohamed Munawwar. Other candidates include current Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and leading lawyers such as Shaheen Hameed and even Prosecutor General Ahmed Muizzu. However, none boast the international caliber of Dr. Munawwar. Dr. Munawwar, Gayoom’s former Attorney General and later MDP President, is a scholar of international repute capable of steering the Judiciary through the country’s teething pains of liberal democracy. As to his political leanings, much can be said on both sides.