Maldives parliament backs move to bar exiled leaders from pres polls

Maldives' government controlled parliament on the third attempt, was forced to cite a top court precedent 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.

The parliament has been struggling to pass the contentious amendments to the electoral framework since Monday due to a lack quorum 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.

During Wednesday's sitting, Speaker Abdulla Maseeh said despite repeated requests, the opposition lawmakers have refused to attend sittings to decide on what he described was necessary amendments to the country's electoral framework ahead of the presidential elections.

But similar to the previous sittings, only 35 ruling coalition lawmakers were present on Wednesday and the speaker had proposed a motion to vote on the amendments based on a recent precedent set by the Supreme Court.

Maseeh was referring to the two rulings of the Supreme Court to 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 top court had cited 'doctrine of necessity' to allow the parliament votes contrary to the constitution.

As expected the motion was unanimously favoured after which the three amendments were duly passed by the 35 lawmakers in attendance on Wednesday.

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 was later amended to impose the same restriction on Maldivians who had been granted asylum abroad.

The revised amendment passed by the parliament states 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.

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

They 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.

The amendment once ratified would bar 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.

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.