Maldives' cabinet of ministers resign in opposition to parliament

The Cabinet claims the opposition-controlled parliament constantly obstructs the government's activity.

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COLOMBO // The Maldives was plunged into a fresh crisis this week after the entire cabinet of ministers resigned in a dispute with the opposition-controlled parliament, which they claim constantly obstructs the government's activity. On Tuesday, the ministers handed in their resignation letters to the president Mohamed Nasheed - who has been in power since November 2008 - saying the parliament, or Majlis, had opposed initiatives and activities to the point where the government could not function properly.

"We have told the president that we cannot continue to work like this," Ahmed Shaheed, who was the foreign minister until his resignation with the rest of the cabinet, said in a statement. He said opposition MPs were embracing a "scorched earth policy" in their efforts to hold up the work of the government. A Maldivian journalist, who declined to be named, said a crisis had been brewing for some time. "The clash between the executive and the legislature has been growing and came to a head on Monday," he said by telephone from Male, the capital of the Indian Ocean archipelago of 1,100 atolls next to Sri Lanka.

In the past 18 months, opposition legislators have continuously blocked bills and legislative enactments. The constitution of the Maldives stipulates that executive powers lie with the president while parliament is the legislative body. Both are elected by the public. Critics of the opposition complain that the government has effectively not been able to function because of the constant obstruction and interference in government decision-making.

One instance they cite is parliament's introduction of a set of rules the government must abide by any time it wants to lease land. "People are sick of the Majlis and its disruption of all activities," said one Maldivian by telephone from Male, asking not to be named. "The government wants to do something but it is blocked by parliament." The crisis ignited on Monday when the government was signing an agreement to hand over the country's only airport to a private company. The signing ceremony was postponed three times due to various issues raised by the opposition, which said the airport should be run by the state.

Following the resignations, Mr Nasheed and his vice president, Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, took over cabinet duties. They will run the administration with the help of deputy ministers until a new cabinet is formed. Along with the resignations, Tuesday also saw the arrest of two opposition legislators - Gasim Ibrahim, leader of the Jumhooree Party, and Abdulla Yameen, leader of the People's Alliance - on corruption charges, Mr Shaheed, the former foreign minister, said in a phone interview.

Residents quoted a lawyer for one of the MPs as saying on television that they were being held for trying to overthrow the government. Journalists and residents said in phone interviews yesterday that the government was accusing opposition parties of "buying" independent MPs to oppose the state. The president, in a statement, urged members of the Majlis "not to cloud the atmosphere of governance in the country and to lend me your co-operation while continuing with the work".

But Uma Naseer, MP and deputy leader of the DRP, the largest party in parliament said by telephone: "This is a democracy and opposition MPs have been voted in to check the government. That is our right. We are doing our duty by the people in pointing out the wrongs. The president on the other hand wants to have a rubber-stamp parliament." Mr Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party is the second largest party in the 77-seat parliament with 26 seats, after the opposition DRP with 28 seats. The balance is made up of a sprinkling of smaller, independent parties which often supports the DRP.

Mr Nasheed came to power on a wave of sweeping pro-democracy reforms, ousting the former president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the Muslim-majority country with an iron fist for 30 years. Since then, he has been trying to reconcile and establish relationships with the opposition, even to the extent of not penalising or charging Mr Gayoom for abuse of power or alleged corruption, a move that has angered many MDP supporters.

Yesterday morning, a small group of opposition supporters carried out an anti-government protest outside parliament under the watchful eyes of police. Locals said areas around the president's residence and parliament were sealed off with roadblocks.