By Mohamed Junayd
MALE (Reuters) – Parliament in the Maldives on Tuesday approved a 30-day extension of a state of emergency sought by President Abdulla Yameen who cited an ongoing national security threat and constitutional crisis.
Countries including the United States, India and Canada along with the United Nations have urged Yameen to lift the emergency and restore normalcy.
Tour operators say hundreds of hotel bookings have been canceled daily since the 15-day emergency was imposed on Feb. 5 despite government assurances that all is normal in the resort islands, which are far from the capital.
Yameen imposed the emergency to annul a Supreme Court ruling that quashed the convictions of nine opposition leaders and ordered his government to free those held in prison.
The emergency “shall only apply to those alleged to have carried out illegal activities – it shall not apply to otherwise law abiding residents of, or visitors to, the Maldives,” a statement from Yameen’s office said on Tuesday.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement on Tuesday saying Washington was disappointed by the extension of the state of emergency.
Since Feb. 5, the government has arrested the chief justice, another Supreme Court judge and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on charges of attempting to usurp power.
Yameen has ignored the court rulings but stopped short of saying he would not obey them. He has jailed opposition members and fired two police chiefs who said they would uphold the court rulings.
Yameen took power in 2013 and his recent moves aim to consolidate power ahead of an election this year.
The country’s neighbor India urged the government to release the nine opposition leaders as required by the Supreme Court.
All 38 ruling party lawmakers approved the vote at an extraordinary session of parliament boycotted by the opposition who cited the constitution to say it required 43 MPs.
Former president Mohamed Nasheed, who is in exile, said the government could not extend the emergency without 43 votes.
Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, leader of the opposition coalition’s parliamentary group, said: “This state of emergency is illegal …. Yameen has, in effect, hijacked the entire state and is ruling the Maldives like a military dictator.”
Parliament says it passed the extension to the emergency under a procedure that does not require a quorum and it sought an opinion on the matter from the Supreme Court.
Former attorney general Ahmed Ali Sawad said more than half of MPs should be present for a vote on the emergency decree.
“This is fundamental legislative check on an executive action having wide ranging ramifications on the rights, liberties and affairs of the people,” Sawad told Reuters.
Shahinda Ismail, executive director of Maldives Democracy Network said the ruling party has effectively and completely removed all democratic and lawful systems of governance.
(Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)