The parliament had scheduled five consecutive sittings for this week, but none materialised beyond the publication of the agenda. Consequently, all scheduled sittings and other legislative committee tasks are mired in uncertainty, causing the legislative branch to stagnate.

How it came to this point

In essence, the standstill is a consequence of disputes between the majority-led Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and its offshoot party, The Democrats. 

Following a comprehensive defeat of Parliament Speaker and ex-President Mohamed Nasheed in the party’s presidential primaries, MPs aligned with him defected from the MDP and founded The Democrats.

Nasheed, accompanied by Deputy Speaker Eva Abdulla—now both members of The Democrats—were appointed to their roles in May 2019 by the then-dominant 65-member MDP parliamentary group. However, since Nasheed’s defeat in the primaries, escalating tensions between the MDP and The Democrats, have resulted in persistent parliamentary discord and delays.

During the previous session, simultaneous no-confidence motions against Nasheed and Abdulla were presented, forcing the parliament into a recess without settling numerous pending legislative matters. 

As September’s presidential elections loomed, both factions employed these motions as political tools. During the run-off, the MDP retracted these motions, citing their intention to allow parliamentary processes to continue unhindered. After electoral losses for both The Democrats and the MDP, the latter identified Nasheed’s counter-campaigning as a contributing factor and reintroduced the motion.

This week, the parliament scheduled deliberations on the no-confidence motion, but it has not been able to hold a sitting as according to the Standing Orders of the 19th Parliament, the Deputy Speaker has to preside over impeachment deliberations on the Speaker. 

Blamed by MDP as political gameplay, Deputy Speaker Eva, who also broke away from MDP, has called in sick for every single session this week, resulting in the deadlock. 

The Standing Orders of the 19th Parliament

Though not law, the Standing Orders of the 19th Parliament adopted by the current parliament is the ultimate set of rules that all parliamentary affairs are built upon. The current impasse also stems from two provisions of the Order – what should take precedence when a no-confidence motion is submitted and who should preside over the sitting to deliberate on the motion. 

With the speaker recusing himself from the proceedings, the Parliament Secretariat, overseen by the Secretary-General, has been setting the agenda for the sittings, maintaining that as per the Order, sittings to impeach a speaker can only be presided over by the Deputy Speaker.

The MDP has vehemently opposed this interpretation, filing a constitutional petition with the Supreme Court. Ahmed Abdulla Afeef, a member of MDP’s legal team, stated in a press conference on Sunday that Secretary-General Fathimath Niusha’s decision was “unconstitutional and in violation of the Parliament’s Standing Orders.”

On Monday, the Supreme Court will deliberate on the MDP’s petition, which seeks two key verdicts: upholding Standing Order 44, which mandates an MP to chair sessions if both the Speaker and Deputy Speaker are absent, and confirming Standing Order 205(d) which stipulates that all other parliamentary businesses are on hold until a no-confidence motion is concluded.

Criticism of the Secretary-General

MDP MPs have fervently criticised the Secretary-General, especially after the 2024 State Budget and the 2023 Supplementary Budget were introduced amidst the no-confidence motion. This has led to suggestions that both the Secretary-General and the Counsel-General may be acting on behalf of the Speaker.

In a recent interview with Raaje TV, MP for Velidhoo Constituency, Mohamed Abdulla Shafeeq, compared the actions of the Secretary-General and Counsel-General during previous impeachment hearings, contending they consistently defended the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. Niusha’s independent interpretation of the Standing Order, without consultation from the Attorney General (AG), also drew criticism.

However, some experts have defended the Secretary-General, stating that her decisions comply with the Standing Order. They assert that only the Speaker can request advice from the AG and, as long as a Speaker is incumbent, the Secretary-General cannot override this protocol.

When the state budget was introduced, Finance Minister Ibrahim Ameer consulted the AG, who concurred with the MDP’s interpretation that a no-confidence motion takes precedence over all other matters.

The Path Ahead

Despite this week’s cancellations, the parliament has scheduled a Sunday sitting to discuss the no-confidence motion. With Deputy Speaker Eva’s ongoing recovery from dengue fever, the feasibility of this session remains uncertain.

On Monday, the Supreme Court will initiate proceedings on the MDP’s constitutional petition. The Democrats have sought representation in this case, asserting its relevance to the entire parliament.

If this deadlock persists, the inauguration of President-elect Dr Mohamed Muizzu could face challenges. With the requirement for a President to be inaugurated during a parliament special session, the MDP contends that such a session would be illegitimate while the no-confidence motion is unresolved. 

Consequently, if no resolution is reached by 17 November, the inauguration, alongside the executive branch and the pending 2023 and 2024 state budgets, could plunge into a constitutional quagmire.