Today the Maldives parliament passed a bill to restrict registration of political parties to be restricted to those who can enroll 10,000 members. This effectively bans the political factions who have been active in the politics of the nation, and silencing the voice of those who take the middle ground and non-violent forms of political activity and engagement; giving the center stage of politics to the cult-like and extreme elements of our society.
The parliament vote today has been a slap in the face of the most sacred freedom enshrined in the August Constitution of the Maldives – freedom of political association, which was first introduced with the 2008 constitution.
We have seen god-like leaders who have promoted a tribal mentality and forms of extremism nationalism take higher ground, in the early years of democracy in this country. And today they have skillfully paved the way to silence all freedoms of political association to anyone else, and limit the freedom exclusively unto themselves. It is indeed a sad day for the democratic reform movement.
The same parliament also voted to conduct no-confidence votes on the President, VP and members of the cabinet and those appointed to independent commissions by parliament, to be held by a secret ballot. The argument of those for the secret ballot were that MPs will be influenced by coercive means and through money, if the vote were transparent. The reason given was that we were a small nation of close-knit associations and relations and such a vote can only be independent if it were through a secret ballot.
Most who support the restriction and the banning of smaller political associations say that the country cannot afford so many parties. Their assumption being that the state has to fund all political parties. Political party state funding could have been based on electoral seats won by them and that would have solved the problem, if that was the problem.
It is sad that Human Rights Commission empowered by the constitution to uphold the rights enshrined in the constitution has not uttered a word now, nor when the bill was in parliament at committee stage. I was reprimanded by the Elections Commission for writing against the proposed restriction of political parties, that we have now seen passed by parliament. That is how influential the gatekeepers of the efforts to re-branding of the monarchy have been.
One “learned-friend” told me that the bill does not restrict freedom of expression and political thought, but restricts political association in a democratic manner, as this is going to be a bill passed by parliament and made into law. He went on to argue that the will of the people (through parliament) shall prevail in a true democracy. Democracy – my foot!
I call upon the President to send back the bill to parliament to rectify the violation of freedom of expression and freedom of association that this bill restricts.