Even as he is battling regional power India on issues like the deployment of Indian troops and the cancellation of the hydrographic survey, Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu has run up against the possibility of being impeached.

The General Purpose Committee of the Majlis (as the Maldivian Parliament is called) has recommended that for impeaching the President and the Vice President (for which a two-thirds majority is required) the total membership of the House should exclude those who resigned to become ministers in the government.

If this recommendation is accepted by the Majlis, the majority party in the Majlis, namely, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), would be able to impeach President Muizzu easily. The MDP, by itself, would be having a two-thirds majority.

The Majlis has a total of 87 seats. The MDP would need 58 votes to carry out an impeachment. But if the General Purpose Committee’s recommendation to exclude seven members is accepted by the Majlis, only 54 votes would be required to attain a two-third majority. And the MDP by itself has 56 members. Therefore, it can, on its own, impeach the President.

Those familiar with the Maldivian Parliament say that in any case, under the Maldivian system, Majlis members who have become ministers, do not vote in Parliament as they will have resigned their membership to become ministers. In the Maldivian system, the President can appoint anybody as a minister. He or she need not be a member of the Majlis. And those Majlis members who become ministers resign from the Majlis first.

Why then should the committee recommend that those who had become ministers should not be counted as members of the Majlis?

The issue is that there is a lack of clarity on how the total membership of the House should be reckoned. Is it the total capacity of the House or is it the total of the existing membership? In other words, will it be 87 (the total capacity) or 80 (the actual strength of the House with seven members having quit to become ministers)?

Since the Majlis will accept the committee’s recommendation given the MDP’s total domination of the House, the President may have to go to the Supreme Court to get it quashed.

The Supreme Court may be asked to state the meaning of the term full membership of the Majlis. Secondly, the Attorney General could argue that any bid to impeach and overthrow the President within weeks or months of his assuming office would be unfair and undemocratic.

The Maldivian President and Vice President are directly elected by the people and not by parliament. Parliament’s throwing them out so easily would be completely undemocratic.

Therefore, it would be in Muizzu’s interest to see that his Peoples’ National Congress (PNC) or an alliance led by it, wins the next elections to the Majlis expected to be held in March 2024. Till such time he will be in the vice-grip of the MDP.

Meanwhile, the Social Affairs Committee of the Majlis recommended that if parliament receives a resolution to remove the President and Vice-President, a notice will have to be sent to the accused within two days, and a Parliament sitting should be convened to proceed with the motion after a 14-day notice from that date.

The President and the Vice President would have 30 minutes to defend themselves in the committee. Three defence lawyers could be pressed into service. The proposed amendment reduces the number of members of the committee to seven from 11. Also, all parties in parliament need not be represented in it.

Fisheries Minister and former parliamentarian Ahmed Shiyam said that the move is unlawful. But Central Henveiru MP Ali Azim insisted that the intention behind these changes is not the immediate impeachment of the current President, but an attempt to rationalise the overall system.

Given the unfavourable domestic situation, President Muizzu would have to be very careful in his domestic and international dealings. Any major mistake in either of these two spheres could lead to demands for his impeachment.

Muizzu has taken a strong stand on India, radically departing from that taken by his predecessor Ibrahim Solih of the MDP. He has asked Indian military personnel invited by the Solih government to leave the country.

He has refused to renew the hydrographic survey agreement with India. And he is reviewing 100 agreements signed with India by the Solih government.

India has not given in to him so far. India wants a “Core Group” to study the issue of the troops. There is yet no response from New Delhi on withdrawal from the hydrographic agreement.

On the hydrographic agreement particularly, India will not give in easily because China is active in the Indian Ocean. At an international conference on the Blue Economy in the Indian Ocean Region held in Kunming earlier this month, China proposed “joint studies and surveys of the China-Indian Ocean Region.” It has virtually renamed the Indian Ocean Region as China-Indian Ocean Region.

India has been sensitive about the visit of Chinese survey ships in the Indian Ocean and has told Sri Lanka more than once not to entertain their visits. India sees these as spy vessels.

The ‘Hindustan Times’ reported recently that New Delhi has warned Colombo and Male about the visit of the Chinese survey ship Xiang Yang Hong 03 in January 2024. As many as 10 Yuan Wang series Chinese intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance ships were seen in the Indian Ocean Region in 2023, the New Delhi-based paper said.

Sources in Male say that Muizzu is eager to show that he is a strong leader who will implement his election promise to get rid of foreign military personnel and recast relations with foreign powers to maintain the Maldives’ status as a sovereign and independent nation.

The fear now is that he may be going overboard in readjusting his country’s relations with India. He may be inviting New Delhi’s displeasure if not wrath. With the alienation of India, he may be forced to swing to the Chinese side which too would be detrimental to his political interest in the Maldives.

The people of the Maldives had shown in 2018, they do not like to be tied exclusively to China or any other outside power either. The pro-Chinese President Abdulla Yameen was defeated by the pro-Indian Ibrahim Solih in the 2018 Presidential election on this issue. Ibrahim Solih paid the price for being too pro-Indian.