Once DRP declared its support for Mohamed Nasheed in the election and gave MDP a majority say in the People’s Majlis, it has been under constant attack from the remaining two branches of state power. In the last two months, Members have been arrested & stripped of seats through political exploitation of the judiciary, and government aligned MPs have not just obstructed proceedings but caused physical harm to fellow MPs and vandalised expensive property inside the chambers.
With no protection on offer from existing State security services, the Majlis has opted to have its own security, and for the first time, created the post of Sergeant at Arms tasked with securing the Majlis and its Members. The man they chose, with 56 votes out of 57, is former First Lieutenant of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), Mohamed Haleem—Bond Haleem to friends.
Haleem turned forty on 29 September. That night he watched MP Ali Azim being brutally arrested. ‘Eye witnesses say that police kicked him and hit him with batons prior to dragging him to their vehicle,’ Minivan News reported. On 30 September he resigned from the MNDF. ‘I realised I just could not go on. There was just too much going wrong.’ Haleem is polite, a humble man. Talking about his resignation seems a difficult thing for him to do. ‘My whole life is the military. Sifainge is my home.’ He joined in 1989. The strong nationalist rhetoric which followed the 1988, 3 November coup got to him. He was sixteen. ‘It was difficult to leave.’ But he felt compelled to.
‘Things were happening that I cannot agree with,’ Haleem said. He found it frustrating to watch security forces being used to stop peaceful demonstrations and felt it was unacceptable that MNDF just stood by and watched as the Constitution was being ripped apart. On 23 September, he registered his dissatisfaction with the Chief of Defence Major General Ahmed Shiyam. It is important, he said in an SMS to the Chief, that everybody is told of what articles 88, 111, 155 and 268 of the Constitution says. They are related to the election, transfer of power, and the superiority of the Constitution over all institutions and laws. Major General Shiyam never replied.
When Haleem submitted his resignation, Colonel Ali Zuhair, his immediate superior, reacted with anger. ‘Stop whatever it is that you are doing right now and get put immediately.’ Colonel Zuhair, who would less than a month later forcibly evict MP Ali Azim from the Majlis chambers, yelled down the phone. ‘It is one thing to resign. Why did you have to go to the media with it?’ Haleem’s letter was widely shared on social media and was reported on Raajje TV. A fellow serviceman told him his access to Bandeyri Koshi and Kalhuthukkalaa Koshi had been blocked. He did not stop to collect his belongings and went straight home. Major General Shiyam rang him around 10:00 the next morning. ‘Whatever it is that you do next, just make sure I don’t see you at one of those podiums!’
After 23 years and 10 months of service, Haleem set about joining civilian life. He registered a company, Bond Investment Maldives. His plan was to take an MVR200,000 contract to do the engineering work on a floating restaurant project. Haleem is an electrical engineer with a Master’s degree in the subject and plenty of experience. He was at his desk working on the project when he heard the Sergeant at Arms job being announced on the radio. The Majlis announcement on 25 October, gave very little time for action. Applications had to be in by 12:00 on 27 October. The beleaguered Majlis was taking no chances.
Even though Haleem was unfamiliar with what the position of Sergeant at Arms entailed, the salary (MVR32,000) caught his attention. He Googled the term—‘it was exactly what I was looking for.’ He had been concerned about lack of security and protection the State security services were providing the Majlis with, and now he had the opportunity to lead the effort to protect MPs. Most importantly for Haleem, he would be working to uphold the Constitution. He went to the Majlis premises immediately. It was a Friday, but he located a staff member who gave him a copy of the application form. Everything happened so fortuitously, Haleem thinks there was a higher force at work.
‘It really is a miracle. I wanted to remain steadfast in serving the country, and now, I have the chance to do so again.’ There is a catch in his voice when he talks of the MNDF. ‘I have known no other life.’ Despite the emotion, Haleem seems far from soft. ‘I will ensure that MPs get the protection they need as they perform the important function of upholding the Constitution,’ he says with determination.
As Sergeant at Arms, he will be stationed inside Majlis chambers whenever it is in session. If the Speaker calls an unruly member to order three times without being obeyed, the Speaker may gesture to the Sergeant to have the Member removed from the chamber. Haleem will signal members of his staff and, together with them, will proceed in formation to the member’s seat and have him removed from the chamber. It would be done with minimum of fuss, with least possible disturbance to the session.
Minister of Defence Mohamed Nazim, was not pleased with Majlis’ plans to have its own security. Citing Article 105 of the Constitution, he asserted that only State security services has the authority to protect the Majlis. The post is common in former colonies of Great Britain, from where it originated. The United States Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, are all countries where State legislatures have their own Sergeant at Arms.
Haleem says he wanted 216 members of staff. Despite the lavish spending on the Maldives Police Service, and by the Maldives Police Service on buying weapons, the country is bankrupt. With each member of the security staff to be paid roughly MVR10,000, Majlis cannot afford over 200 security staff. ‘We will have 100 members instead,’ says Haleem. There will be SPOs [Special Protection Officers] for each Member who requests the service. They will carry non-lethal weapons, and Haleem will give preference to ex-servicemen during the recruitment process. All staff would be people with combat training. They will guard the member round the clock. Asked if it does not amount to too much securitisation of the People’s Majlis, he said, ‘it is necessary at a time like this, when the Constitution is in peril.’
On 27 October Majlis decided by a majority vote to install Speaker Abdulla Shahid as the interim President, with full presidential powers, on 11 November if there is no elected leader by then. ‘If there is no election, the Speaker will have to assume the power and responsibilities of the President. This is the only way to ensure that we do not fall into a Constitutional void.’ Haleem will do all he can to make sure this happens. ‘That is the oath by which I have lived most of my life. I will do all I can to uphold the Constitution of the Maldives.’