Maldives pres sidesteps state of emergency in parliament address

To quote Article 84 of the constitution 'at the beginning of the first session of each year at the first sitting, the president shall address the parliament on the state of the country, and may present proposals for improving the state of the country to the parliament.'

As per his constitutional duty, embattled president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom delivered his address - his fourth late Wednesday to open the parliament for the year.

President Yameen quite diligently detailed the government's main aim, objectives and the key development projects earmarked for the year.

However, the president rather conveniently, sidestepped a key responsibility in his address. The state of the country.

The island nation has been embroiled in fresh political turmoil after the Supreme Court on February 1 ordered the immediate release of jailed political leaders including self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed.

President Yameen on February 5 had declared a 15 day state of emergency after his last ditch attempt to convince the top court to revoke the order failed, purged the Supreme Court by arresting two judges and the remaining political leaders and ultimately had the order revoked.

As the state of emergency expired on Tuesday, president Yameen had got the parliament contentiously extend it by another 30 days.

But the parliament vote has been surrounded by controversy. After efforts to convince some of the opposition MPs to attend Tuesday's sitting failed, the parliament with only 38 government MPs voted to extend the state of emergency.

According to Article 87 (b) of the constitution, a parliament vote on any matter requiring compliance by citizens shall only be undertaken when more than half of the total membership of the parliament are present at the sitting at which the matter is voted upon.

The number is well short of the minimum 43 specified by the constitution.

However, in a bid to address the confusion, the parliament had also voted to ask the Supreme Court for an interpretation of the Article on the constitutionally mandated quorum for the vote.

The apex court late Wednesday, issued a temporary ruling ordering the authorities to follow the parliament vote until it can interpret the constitutional article as requested by the parliament.

The temporary ruling comes after the opposition along with top lawyers in the country argued that the lack of quorum at the parliament would mean that the state of emergency would no longer be in effect. The united opposition has also called for the immediate release of all detainees arrested since the emergency state was declared.

The constitutional question mark surrounding the extended state of emergency has also reportedly divided even the government's legal advisers including the chief prosecutor and senior lawyers of the Attorney General's (AG) office.

The island nation is in turmoil. The economy is on the brink of a collapse as tourist arrivals have taken a major hit following the declaration of the state of emergency.

But as president Yameen ended his long address, he made no mention of the current state of the country which has led to intense criticism from the opposition and public alike.