Divided Maldives parliament backs Commonwealth exit amid ruling party split

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Fewer than half of Maldives lawmakers voted on Wednesday in favor of leaving the Commonwealth, highlighting deep divisions over last week’s decision by President Abdulla Yameen to sever ties with the group of mostly former British colonies.

An aerial view of Maldives capital Male December 9, 2009. REUTERS/Reinhard Krause/File photo

The vote coincided with confirmation of a formal split in Yameen’s ruling party, a move that could bolster the opposition coalition, one of whose members called on the international community to help restore political stability to the island.

Best known as a haven for wealthy tourists, the Indian Ocean archipelago has been mired in political unrest since Mohamed Nasheed, its first democratically elected leader, was ousted in disputed circumstances in 2012.

Yameen’s government said last week the Maldives would on quit the Commonwealth, weeks after the organization warned it could be suspended because of lack of progress in promoting the rule of law and democracy.

Wednesday’s parliamentary vote endorsed that exit, but it was approved by only 39 lawmakers in the 85-member house while 19 voted against, including six from Yameen’s own party.

The remaining lawmakers were absent, the parliament official website showed.

On Monday, Yameen’s ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) split formally into two factions, one run by the president and the other by his half brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the country for three decades through 2008.

The country’s Election Commission on Wednesday indicated that it recognized Yameen’s faction as the legitimate PPM, news website Maldives Independent reported.

Yameen’s administration has arrested most of the opponents likely to challenge him in 2018 elections.

The opposition coalition, Maldives United Opposition (MUO), says the administration is trying to cover up corruption including money laundering, accusations the government has denied.

Nasheed, in exile in Britain after being allowed out of jail to travel for medical treatment, formed the MUO in June with the aim of toppling Yameen.

On Wednesday the group launched a campaign to lobby international support for political reform.

“There is no hopes domestically. We have exhausted all the options. We need more pressure from the international community to press the government for democracy,” Abdulla Riyaz, a MUO lawmaker, told reporters in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo.

Riyaz was a member of a delegation meeting Colombo-based diplomats the group hopes can help launch a campaign against Yameen.

Reporting by Shihar Aneez; editing by John Stonestreet