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#Maldives: Impeachment motion against President Waheed legitimate: Counsel General to Parliament

#Maldives: The Parliament's Counsel General Fathimath Filza told media today that the impeachment motion against President Mohamed Waheed by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is legitimate and can be put on the agenda accordingly. According to the Counsel General, the motion meets the criteria set out in Section 100 (b) of the Constitution. Section 100 (b) stipulates that the impeachment resolution as provided for in subsection (a) of the same Section, must be submitted to the Parliament (People’s Majlis), under the hand of at least one third of the members (amounting to 26 members presently), specifying the reasons. The motion was submitted to the Parliament on October 10th, signed by 28 MPs of the MDP, thereby meeting the criteria of number of MPs required to table the resolution.

An impeachment motion requires a 2/3 majority of the Parliament to vote in favor of the motion. With the current composition of the Parliament, presuming that a member would be elected to the vacan seat for Ungoofaaru Constituency prior to the presidential impeachment vote, this means that a total of 52 votes are needed to carry the motion. 

The next step, according to Ms. Filza, would be for the Parliament to table the motion in its Agenda. The President would be entitled to 14 days notice of the tabled motion, she told media. The decision would be up to the Parliament at that session, she said, to determine if it accepts the motion or not. A motion has to be accepted according to parliamentary regulations before it can go to committee for deliberation. 

Section 100 (a) stipulates that the Parliament can only impeach the President (or Vice President) only on three grounds, that is:  direct violation of a tenet of Islam, the Constitution or law; serious misconduct unsuited to the office of the President or Vice President; or inability to perform the responsibilities of office of President or Vice President (Section 100 (a)).

Hence, for the impeachment process to proceed under Section 100, the Parliament must accept that at least  one of the three possible reasons stated in Section 100 (a) has been met. Such a resolution can only be, after due process, passed by a 2/3rds majority of the total membership of Parliament (Section 100 (e)). Presently, this means 52 votes in favor of the resolution.

An impeachment process must also follow the principles and procedures specified in the Regulations governing the functioning of the Parliament (Section 100 (f)). Due process for impeachment is detailed in Section 37 of the Parliamentary Regulations 2010. According to the Regulations, the Parliament must appoint a committee of 11 to deliberate each and every charge against the President before making a recommendation on the charge, based on which a vote would be taken. This process, that each charge must be investigated and deliberated by the Parliament, could be one reason for tabling an impeachment motion, which is unlikely to pass given the distribution of party seats in the Parliament today.

The charges specified in the motion submitted by the MDP fall under the last two categories in Section 100 (a) of the Constitution, serious misconduct and inability to perform the responsibilities of office. These charges include, allegation that direct orders were given by President Waheed to police to harm MDP supporters on February 8th and an allegation that President Waheed encroached on the members' privilege in remarks made to Maldivians at a meeting in Colombo in August 2012.

The motion further alleges that President Waheed is responsible for the breaking up of the Maldivian economy to the extent that foreign investors are hesitant to invest in the Maldives. The motion also charges that President Waheed has taken the country into so much debt that it cannot afford to pay the salaries of civil servants. Additionally, it holds President Waheed directly responsible for the recent 300 million MRf loan taken from the Bank of Maldives by the Maldivian Government, said to be in violation of financial laws.

President Waheed is confident that the motion will fail, the President's Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza told media yesterday. He deemed the motion baseless and condemned the MDP for what he termed as wasting the valuable time of the Parliament with frivolous motions.

While the MDP has easily put together 2 more than the required 26 signatures for tabling the  impeachment motion, political analysist question whether it can solicit the balance 24 votes required to make up the 52 votes for passing the resolution. Based on the past performance of MDP actions within Parliament, it is also probable that MDP can even obtain a majority vote in the 11 member special committee which is mandatory for reviewing the motion and investigating the charges therein. This majority vote in the special committee would be required for the charges to then reach the Parliament floor for voting.

The Committee report is required to address each and every charge separately, with the evidence for or against the charge, and with a Committee recommendation to the Parliament on whether the charge is valid or not. However, even if the opposition were able to bring the motion to the Parliament floor to a vote, it may be nearly impossible for MDP to collect the required 2/3 majority (52 votes) for such a motion to be passed.

At present, although MDP individually holds the majority of seats, the ruling coalition holds the absolute majority seats, excluding 8 independents. The minority party at present is the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), while Dhivehi Raiyyithunge Party (DRP) being the third largest party. Junhooree Party holds two seats, with a single seat each held by the People's Alliance (PA) and Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP).

The Ungoofaaru constituency seat is being decided at a by-election on December 1st, at which both MDP and PPM are contesting. It was vacated earlier this month by the brutal murder of MP Afraasheem Ali, a murder to which 5 activists from MDP have been linked. Dr. Afraasheem, a moderate Muslim scholar and a much respected religious teacher, was a PPM member.

The MDP Parliamentary Group declared yesterday that it had high hopes that it could garner enought votes to pass the impeachment resolution. The party most suspected by the general public to defect on the vote, Dhivehi Raiyyithunge Party, has declared openly that, as a member of the coalition, it would take the coalition commitments into consideration. DRP Party Leader Thasmeen Ali told media that the DRP Council and Parliamentary Group had yet to decide on a stand on the impeachment motion against the President.

Individually, PPM MPs have declared to media that PPM support the incumbent President. However, no official statement has been made by the party yet.

Members' voting on the impeachment motion may be guided by Section 75 of the Constitution which enjoins Members of Parliament to uphold national interest and public welfare, and not private benefit or the benefit of those with whom they have “special relations” (eg. party interest or business interest).

Members of the People’s Majlis should be guided in their actions by considerations of national interest and public welfare foremost, and should not exploit their official positions in any way for their own benefit or for the benefit of those with whom they have special relations. They shall represent not only their constituencies but the country as a whole” Section 75.

MDP has also tabled a no-confidence motion against Home Minister Mohamed Ahmed Jameel, with the vote in Parliament to be taken on November 13. Some of the charges against Minister Jameel are the same as that against President Waheed. Hence, the November 13 vote may be a crucial indicator of the state of play for the President's impeachment motion. 

Dr. Waheed, it is said, has some of the strongest democratic credentials from amongst the political leaders in the Maldives at present (see No Easy Road to Reform: A Look at Mohamed Waheed's Long Journey to Presidency: Raajje News 26 February 2012). However, this has been overshadowed by the foreign press and European rich magnates support for former President Nasheed. Heavily biased and factually wrong reporting by world media has also stacked the international cards against Maldives. President Waheed's steadfast commitment to national sovereignty and rule of law in the face of unfair prejudice and pressure by world powers has been much appreciated by the Maldivian general public.

Being a Presidential system of governance, the President is elected by a direct votes from the national electorate, and rules only with the support of the majority of his subjects. Hence, a far more democratic process to ascertain President Waheed’s position would be to hold a public referendum on whether he presently has the majority support or not.

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