Additional reporting by Mohamed Naahee.
President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has delivered his opening address to a boisterous parliament amid protests inside and outside the parliament chamber.
Waheed, who was due to deliver the address at 10:00am this morning, finally finished it at 4:00pm on the fourth attempt after repeated obstruction by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs. Representatives from the party waved pieces of paper at him with phrases such as “illegitimate president” and “coup boss”.
Under the 2008 constitution, the head of state is required to deliver the opening address at the first sitting of parliament each year. The MDP contend that Waheed’s presidency is illegitimate, following the resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed on February 7, 2012, amid a police and military mutiny. The party disrupted last year’s opening session by blockading the chamber doors from the inside, while outside supporters clashed with police in the streets.
A sit-down protest in the afternoon at the Sosun Magu intersection appeared peaceful, although police had barricaded the roads around the parliament building. Inside, local media reported that five MPs left the chamber voluntarily after being ordered to do so by Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid.
Deputy Parliamentary Group Leader of MDP Ali Waheed announced on Sunday that “usurpers don’t get to deliver presidential addresses”.
In his address, an English summary of which later appeared on the President’s Office website, President Waheed emphasised “independence and territorial dignity” and described his highest priority as “strengthening the principles of Islamic faith among the people.”
“Underscoring that the Maldivians have always defended their independence from foreign influence, President Waheed stressed on the sacrifices made by our ancestors with their lives and blood,” read the statement.
“In his Presidential Address, the President noted that the keystone of our independence is the allegiance of our forefathers to the ideals and integrity of the Maldives, and that the foundation of our unity lies in Islam. The President said that our common faith, language and ethnicity were the reason why our nation should not disintegrate into opposing factions.
“Continuing in this regard, the President reminded the people to be vigilant of the patience and determination necessary to maintain our independence and individuality, and to unwaveringly hold on to our Islamic faith,” the statement concluded.
According to local media, Waheed also remarked that the economy had “fallen into a pit” at the time he took over the presidency, with external debt of US$725 million.
Expropriating the airport from Indian infrastructure giant GMR – at the time the country’s single largest foreign investment at US$511 million – had increased foreign currency coming into the country and relieved the dollar shortage, Waheed said according to Sun Online.
Speaking to Minivan News, Deputy Parliamentary Group Leader of government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Abdulla Mausoom said that the party would not support such “extremist” activities on the parliament floor.
“DRP will never support such activities. We will support to uphold rule of law and therefore the party would behave and strictly follow the parliamentary regulations,” he said.
He further claimed that “irresponsibility” and “stubbornness” within the parliament would not favour the MDP, and said the party should replace its leadership with “democrats” instead of “rogue extremists”.
“There are a lot of democrats working with the MDP. Many of them are in the parliament as well. But their hands are tied, their mouths taped and their pens capped. They should not bow down to the extremist elements within MDP,” Mausoom said.