Lack of quorum again delays move to bar exiled leaders from pres polls

For the second time in as many days Maldives' government controlled parliament was unable to rubber-stamp an amendment to the country's law on presidential elections largely designed to bar several political leaders currently in exile from contesting for the presidency due to a lack of quorum.

Speaker Abdulla Maseeh said as only 28 lawmakers were present during Monday's sitting, the amendment proposed by chief government lawmaker Ahmed Nihan Hussain Manik cannot be put to a vote. He had also urged all lawmakers to attend parliament especially during a vote.

However, the speaker again on Tuesday was forced to call of the vote due to a lack of quorum to pass what he described was key amendments to the country's electoral framework ahead of the presidential elections.

The parliament has been struggling to meet the required quorum to pass key laws amid the ongoing parliament boycott by opposition lawmakers.

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.

This means that the ruling coalition needs a minimum 43 lawmakers in a sitting to pass the law as specified by the constitution. However, the ruling coalition no longer has the required number after losing as many as a dozen MPs to the opposition who have since been disqualified under contentious circumstances.

The parliament had needed the Supreme Court to step in and back recent votes taken by the parliament to disqualify the rebel lawmakers and extending the state of emergency in February without the required quorum.

The Vilimale lawmaker's original amendment to the electoral framework stated that a Maldivian citizen with dual citizenship would only be eligible to contest for the presidency if 10 years have lapsed since the foreign citizenship had been renounced.

But following the outspoken lawmaker's suggestion to impose the same restriction on Maldivians who had been granted asylum abroad, the parliamentary independent bodies committee had made the revision.

The revised amendment now says that a Maldivian citizen with dual citizenship or has been granted asylum in a foreign country would only be eligible to contest for the presidency if 10 years have lapsed since the foreign citizenship or asylum had been renounced.

Nihan had argued that the amendment was necessary to prevent foreign influence and interference in the country's internal affairs.

Nihan had insisted that such people who have been living abroad for years should not be allowed to suddenly return and lead the country and its people.

Nihan was indirectly referring to the several political leaders who have been forced into exile.

Former president Mohamed Nasheed lives in self imposed exile most recently in Sri Lanka after he was allowed to leave to the UK on medical leave in an internationally brokered deal following his jailing on terrorism charges.

He was sentenced to 13 years in prison over the arbitrary arrest and subsequent detention of a sitting judge while he was president.

Opposition Jumhoory Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim lives in self imposed exile in Germany after he was convicted of bribery and sentenced to over three years in prison in August last year.

Gasim was granted medical leave to travel to Singapore where he had undergone a minor heart surgery in September before travelling to Germany where he has since been granted asylum.

The amendment however was proposed before, Nasheed had forfeited his presidential ticket for the upcoming presidential elections.

Veteran Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has since been named as Nasheed's replacement.

Nasheed's refusal to back-down earlier had threatened to destroy the once unimaginable alliance he had formed with former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and the other two opposition party leaders - Gasim Ibrahim and Sheikh Imran Abdulla.

But Nasheed's sudden withdrawal, has now united the once divided opposition and have finally agreed on nominating a single candidate for the upcoming presidential elections.

Hours after Nasheed's withdrawal, the four leaders in a joint statement said the opposition have now reached an agreement to join forces against incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

Gasim's Jumhoory Party (JP) along with Imran's religiously conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) have already come out in support of Solih as the opposition alliance candidate for the elections.

According to the long awaited opposition agreement, the presidential candidate would be Solih while the running mate would be nominated by JP which it said would be announced next Tuesday.