Policemen use pepper spray to disperse pro-opposition supporters during a protest in Male, Maldives, Feb. 16, 2017.
Policemen use pepper spray to disperse pro-opposition supporters during a protest in Male, Maldives, Feb. 16, 2017.

MALE, MALDIVES - Maldives' parliament on Tuesday approved a 30-day extension of a state of emergency declared by the president to strengthen his power, ignoring a plea from regional power India not to extend it.

The extension of the emergency, first declared earlier this month after the Supreme Court ordered the release of his imprisoned political opponents, is the latest development in a political crisis that has engulfed the Indian Ocean archipelago nation for weeks. The regulations give wide powers to security forces to detain people and curtail freedom to protest.

The speaker of parliament, Abdulla Maseeh, announced that the motion passed after 38 ruling party lawmakers in the 85-member house voted in favor and opposition lawmakers boycotted the balloting.

The opposition said later that the emergency extension was illegal because there was no constitutionally required quorum in Parliament. According to the constitution, one fourth of the members are required for an ordinary vote to be taken and at least half the number of the members should be present in affairs "requiring compliance by the citizens." The constitution does not specify such instances.

The two-week state of emergency declared by President Yameen Abdul Gayoom was to expire Tuesday evening, and he had asked the legislature to extend it by 30 days.

The Maldives has been in political turmoil since Feb.1 when the Supreme Court ordered the release of a group of Yameen's political opponents who had been imprisoned after convictions criticized for alleged due process violations.

Regional power India said in a statement earlier Tuesday that it expects that "the government of Maldives will not be seeking extension of the state of emergency so that the political process in Maldives can resume with immediate effect."
"After the revocation of the emergency, democratic institutions including the judiciary should be allowed to function independently and in a fair and transparent manner in accordance with the constitution," the statement said also calling for the release of Yameen's rivals.
"It is important that Maldives quickly returns to the path of democracy and the rule of law so that the aspirations of Maldivian people are met and the concerns of the international community are assuaged."

The constitution requires that a state of emergency be approved within 48 hours of its declaration by the president. It can take up to two weeks if parliament is in recess, as was the case with Yameen's proclamation.

Under the emergency law, Yameen had two Supreme Court judges arrested, accusing them of corruption. Later, the remaining three judges annulled the order to release Yameen's opponents. Yameen's half brother and former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was also arrested after the emergency decree, accused of conspiring with the opposition to overthrow the government.
The judges on Sunday also delayed an earlier order to reinstate 12 pro-opposition lawmakers who were expelled after siding with the opposition. Yameen's party would have lost a majority in parliament had they been allowed to participate.

"This state of emergency is illegal and void. All acts undertaken with emergency powers are illegal," opposition lawmaker Ibrahim Mohamed Solih told reporters.

"By entirely circumventing the constitution, President Yameen has in effect hijacked the entire state and is ruling the Maldives like a military dictator," he said..

Maldives became a multiparty democracy in 2008 after decades of Gayoom's autocratic rule. But Yameen has rolled back much of the country's democratic gains after being elected in 2013.

The country's traditional political alliances have been upended in recent years. Gayoom, now an opposition leader, is allied with exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed, who unseated him in the 2008 elections. Nasheed, Yameen's most prominent rival, is among the politicians ordered freed by the Supreme Court.

Maldives is an archipelago of more than 1,000 islands. More than one-third of its 400,000 citizens live in Male, the crowded capital city. Tourism dominates the economy, with wealthy foreigners flown directly to hyper-expensive resort islands.