Maldives president loses parliamentary majority after lawmakers defect

(Reuters) - Maldives President Abdulla Yameen lost his majority in parliament after opposition lawmakers defected and launched a new attempt to unseat an ally accused of ignoring allegations of corruption, mismanagement and rights abuses, officials said.

FILE PHOTO: Maldives President Abdulla Yameen inspects a guard of honour during his ceremonial reception at the forecourt of India's presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi January 2, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

An exiled former leader called on Yameen to resign on Tuesday after 10 lawmakers from the president’s own party joined opposition lawmakers in launching an impeachment motion against his close ally, Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed

The 10 defections saw Yameen lose his 48-seat majority in the 85-seat parliament, with a four-party opposition coalition now holding 45 seats. The reason for the defections was not immediately known.

The largely Muslim island chain, which has a population of 400,000, has a reputation as a tourist paradise but has been mired in political unrest for years.

The opposition coalition, which includes the party of exiled former leader Mohamed Nasheed and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, said Mohamed had been deliberately ignoring requests to summon government officials for questioning.

Nasheed said on Twitter: “President Yameen has lost parliament, lost local council elections, lost the coalition that brought him to power. He has lost and should resign.”

The coalition said in a statement it backed public demands for reform “following widespread corruption, the politicization of independent institutions, mismanagement of the economy, brutalizing of citizens and encroachment of individual liberties”.

“We urge the independent institutions, the judiciary, security services, our international development partners to respect the wish of the people and the decision of the majority of the parliament,” it said.

A parliament sitting scheduled for Tuesday was canceled soon after the impeachment motion was lodged, Maldives news website reported.

Mohamed survived a bid to impeach him amid chaotic scenes in the Indian Ocean island nation’s parliament in March and Yameen brushed aside the latest attempt.

“The opposition has mounted several such political challenges in the past, which the administration is confident of weathering once again,” Yameen’s spokesman Ibrahim Hussain said.

Yameen’s plans to run for a second five-year term in 2018 have been dogged by allegations of corruption and undemocratic behavior.

His administration has arrested most of the opponents who might challenge him in 2018, and his government denies opposition allegations his administration is trying to cover up corruption, including money laundering.

Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the Maldives, was ousted in 2012 and was later sentenced to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges after a widely denounced trial.

The Maldives has other looming problems, including significant numbers of radicalized youths who have enlisted to fight for the Islamic State group in the Middle East.

Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Paul Tait