Why Maldives pres won't risk parliamentary by-elections

The rebel government lawmakers have been harshly dealt with. The sudden and unexpected revolt which briefly threatened to derail the government was successfully and quite effectively quashed.

Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) had engineered the constitutional dispute case asking the Supreme Court to disqualify MPs who defect or violate party whip-lines and or are formally removed from their respective party.

The three judge bench hearing the case unanimously ruled in favour of the government which remains highly debatable to this day. The rebel MPs had scrambled to leave PPM before the verdict but the party had refused to allow the lawmakers to leave saying that their requests can only be processed after their respective disciplinary hearings are concluded.

Ultimately, the MPs were axed shortly after the contentious ruling and elections commission had declared as many as a dozen parliamentary seats vacant.

PPM's strategy to maintain its iron grip in the parliament was simple. Disqualify any government MP who dares to question president Yameen. The result, a stunning 14 percent of the parliament remains without representatives of the people in blatant violation of their democratic rights.

Elections commission is bound by law to hold a by-election within 60 days of a seat being vacated. But five months on, the electoral watchdog is no closer to abiding by its legally obligated mandate. A lack of budget to hold such mass elections was the initial excuse. But the 'excuse' was short-lived as the government has allocated MVR26 million in the supplementary budget for the by-elections. However, as the year ticks down, the elections commission does not appear to be too concerned or at the very least offer an explanation of its ineptitude.

"There are millions allocated in the supplementary budget for the by-elections. We need to ask where that money went. The year is almost at an end and what was allocated in the supplementary budget should have been done by now. But no one is talking about the by-elections," a disqualified MP angrily retorted.

A local political analyst on condition of anonymity told Avas that the by-elections were a huge risk for the government, especially with the presidential elections just around the corner. If the by-elections do not go the way of the government it could turn the local political landscape on its head before the much coveted presidential elections next year, the analyst said.

One thing the government would have learned from the embarrassing defeat in the local council elections earlier this year would be to avoid any more elections before the big one in next November, he added. The argument remains sound. If the now united opposition is able to pull off wins in the majority of the constituencies, it could hand parliament control back to the opposition. If that happens, the government would be back to square one and there would be little it can do to stop the opposition from unseating the parliament speaker and his deputy. And the opposition is not expected to stop there. They would use the parliament to ring changes to the judiciary and key independent commissions and wrest the advantage from the government.

"I believe no matter how much campaigning PPM is doing in the islands under the pretext of the by-elections, president Yameen won't take the risk of playing the parliament card so close to the presidential elections," another political expert told Avas.

President Yameen has thus far cleared the entire field of any rival who would threaten his re-election hopes. Most have been jailed on allegedly trumped up charges while others have been forced to live in exile. So it remains highly unlikely that he would risk handing parliament control to the opposition which among its first order of business would be to use it to bring its leaders back into the presidential fold.

After having worked so hard to remove almost all his rivals from the equation, president Yameen's attention now appears to be firmly on the ultimate prize -- a second term in office. But a dozen by-elections could change all that and president Yameen could be reduced to an almighty struggle to just hold onto power until November.

So taking into account what has transpired in the past, the government would be hell bent on stalling the by-elections as long as it can. And it would hardly be a surprise if a dozen parliament seats remain empty through and even beyond next November.