February 19, 2018 / 7:46 AM / 4 months ago

Maldives leader seeks approval to extend state of emergency

MALE (Reuters) - Maldives President Abdulla Yameen on Monday sought parliamentary approval to extend a state of emergency by 30 days, saying a threat to national security had not diminished and a constitutional crisis had not been resolved.

FILE PHOTO Abdulla Yameen takes his oath as the President of Maldives during a swearing-in ceremony at the parliament in Male November 17, 2013. REUTERS/Waheed Mohamed/File Photo

But with opposition members boycotting the session, only 39 of 85 MPs were present, and the vote was canceled and an “extraordinary sitting” scheduled for Tuesday.

Yameen imposed a state of emergency on Feb. 5 for 15 days to annul a Supreme Court ruling that quashed convictions against nine opposition leaders and ordered his government to free those held in prison. The emergency was to end on Tuesday.

Tourists have been cancelling hundreds of hotel bookings every day since the emergency was imposed, tour operators say, despite government assurances that all is normal in the resort islands, far from the capital.

Parliament canceled Monday’s vote without giving a reason after the opposition boycott, which left only 39 ruling party MPs in the chamber. The opposition said the vote needed a quorum of at least 43 members.

The Supreme Court this month ordered the reinstatement of 12 lawmakers stripped of their parliamentary seats by Yameen’s party for defecting last year. With the 12 MPs absent, the government retains a majority in parliament.

JUDGES ARRESTED

Under the emergency, Yameen’s administration has arrested the chief justice, another Supreme Court judge and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on allegations of attempting to overthrow the government.

Though Yameen has ignored the court rulings, he has stopped short of saying he will not obey them. He has, however, fired two police chiefs who said they would uphold the rulings, and continues to jail opposition members.

China, India, the United States and Britain have all issued warnings against travel to the Indian Ocean island chain, known for its luxury hotels, scuba-diving resorts and tropical seas.

A statement from the president’s office said the disengagement of opposition legislators would cripple parliament’s ability to decide on the emergency. “Further, the government notes with concern that these actions will further deepen the current constitutional crisis,” it said.

Ahmed Nihan, leader of the ruling party group in parliament, said that “the ... emergency does not become void because parliament does not approve it”.

But Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, head of the opposition parliamentary group leader, said the constitution made clear that parliament’s approval was required to extend the state of emergency.

“If this is not approved (by parliament), it is going to be invalid. Once the emergency becomes void, everything done under that state of emergency also will be void and invalid.”

Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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