The Maldives opposition alliance has submitted a no-confidence motion to oust Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed with the backing of a majority of lawmakers from the 85-member Peopleâ€™s Majlis.
The motion was filed Monday morning with 45 signatories, including 10 MPs from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives, prompting opposition supporters to celebrate President Abdulla Yameenâ€™s apparent loss of his previously unassailable parliamentary majority.
But the PPM has challenged the validity of the motion. Appearing at a press conference alongside Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan and other senior lawmakers, PPM MP Ahmed Rasheed insisted that he did not sign the motion.
The MP for the Isdhoo constituency has also asked the parliament secretariat to investigate the alleged forgery of his signature. Shortly thereafter, the opposition released a photo of the lawmaker signing a document in front of MP Faris Maumoon.
The other PPM MPs who appear to have signed the motion are Abdul Latheef Mohamed, Abdulla Sinan, Ali Shah, Ahmed Thoriq, Saudhullah Hilmy, Ilham Ahmed, Mohamed Abdulla, Hussain Shahudhy, and Ahmed Abdulla.
All of the apparent defectors were among 48 MPs who voted against a no-confidence motion against Maseeh in late March, which was defeated in a controversial roll call vote after 13 opposition MPs were forcibly expelled from the chamber.
The March 27 vote was the first battle of a political showdown between Yameenâ€™s embattled three-year administration and the new opposition coalition bolstered by the weight of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
The alliance was counting on defections from the divided ruling party, which was split into rival factions last year after Gayoom lost an acrimonious leadership dispute with his half-brother Yameen and went on to sign a pact with opposition leaders.
In the wake of the failed bid to remove Maseeh, the parliamentâ€™s rules were changed to require a minimum of 42 signatures to submit a no-confidence motion against the speaker or the deputy speaker.
Speaking at a joint press conference after filing the motion, Gayoomâ€™s son MP Faris Maumoon expressed confidence that ruling party lawmakers who did not sign the motion will also cooperate with the opposition.
MP Abdulla Riyaz, a former police chief and Jumhooree Party deputy leader, called on the judiciary, security forces and independent institutions to respect the realignment in the parliament.
The terrorism conviction of exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed should be reviewed and â€œbaselessâ€ charges against JP leader Gasim Ibrahim and MP Faris should be withdrawn, he said.
Minority Leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih reiterated the grounds for Maseehâ€™s removal, accusing the speaker of unfair conduct, disregard of the rule of law and parliamentary procedures and eroding checks and balances.
The opposition coalition also put out a joint statement declaring that its goal is to pave the way for a free and inclusive presidential election in 2018, free the judiciary and security services from political influence, and â€œto establish the integrity of independent institutions, reverse unconstitutional and undemocratic laws, and secure freedom for all individuals who have been arrested, under investigation, on trial, or convicted of politically motivated chargesâ€.
The speaker has meanwhile cancelled Tuesdayâ€™s sitting of parliament following the submission of the no-confidence motion.
The constitution requires a 14-day notice before the no-confidence vote. According to the parliamentâ€™s standing orders, the speaker and MPs must be informed of the motion within three working days of submission, after which Maseeh must be given 10 working days to prepare his defence.
The motion must then be tabled in the agenda of the next sitting. Maseeh will have the right to take part and defend himself in the debate.
With 84 MPs present and voting, 43 votes will be needed to pass the motion as Maseeh cannot participate in the vote. Deputy Speaker â€˜Reekoâ€™ Moosa Manik will preside over the sitting.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party previously accused Maseeh of denying ministers, judges, and heads of independent institutions the right to reply before they were removed, and of â€œdeliberately ignoring requests from opposition MPs to summon government officials for questioning on matters of public importance and national development.â€
Maseeh dismissed the grounds as â€œbaselessâ€ ahead of the previous no-confidence vote and insisted that he has conducted parliamentary proceedings in accordance with the rules.