NEW DELHI: In a sudden move that has alarmed India, the Maldives on Tuesday tabled a bill that will allow foreign ownership of land, which will give unprecedented access to countries like China to have a toehold in the strategic Indian Ocean region.
As per the bill, ownership of land by foreign parties will be allowed if the investment is more than $1 billion and 70 percent of the plot must have been “reclaimed”. So far, foreigners could only lease land for up to 99 years.
To pass the amendment, the ruling party needs a two-thirds majority in the 85-member Parliament. While Opposition MDP sources told Express that they were opposed to the bill due to its foreign policy implication and concerns over sovereignty, there was ambiguity on whether all Opposition MPs will fall in line, even if a whip is issued to vote against the bill.
The MDP has only 20 seats, two less than the number required to block the amendment.
MDP sources admitted that it would be almost impossible to stop the passage of the bill, which will be put to vote on Wednesday.
For for the last one week, there had been a buzz about the government of President Abdulla Yameen bringing in the Constitutional amendment, but observers were taken by surprise when the Parliament speaker scheduled an extraordinary sitting for Tuesday night.
“Everything had been kept very hush-hush. Today’s move has come as a complete shock,” said an MDP member.
The debate, which began at 9.30 pm in the Maldives, was scheduled after Parliament modified the lawmaking process, fast-tracking the amendment to the Constitution.
In the morning, Parliament impeached Vice-President M Jameel Ahmed with support from the Opposition, as part of a deal which paved the way for the temporary release from jail of leaders such as former President and MDP chief Mohamed Nasheed.
The “understanding” between the government and Opposition had led to the passage of the Maldives’ first Constitutional amendment, which lowered the age for presidential candidates and cleared the decks for talks.