Group of 1,196 islands in the north Indian Ocean, about 640 km/400 mi southwest of Sri Lanka; only 203 of them are inhabited.
Government The Maldives has a presidential political executive and is developing a multiparty political system. The 1968 constitution (as amended in 1998 and 2008) provides for a president directly elected for a five-year term, with a limit of two terms, and a single-chamber, 77-member parliament, or citizens' council, the Majlis, serving a similar term. Sixty-nine of the Majlis's members are elected by universal suffrage and eight are appointed by the president, who appoints and leads a cabinet that is responsible to the Majlis. In July 2005, political parties were allowed to be formed and in August 2007 voters supported retaining the presidential system, with 62% in favour as against 38% who supported a parliamentary system.
History The islands were originally settled many millennia ago by Dravidian people from Sri Lanka. Buddhism was the dominant religion until the 12th century AD, when the islands came under Muslim control. They became an independent Islamic sultanate, but came under Portuguese rule in 1518. A dependency of Ceylon 1645–1948, they were under British protection 1887–1965 as the Maldive Islands and became a republic in 1953. The sultan was restored in 1954, and then, after achieving full independence as Maldives in 1965, the monarchy was abolished and the islands returned to republican status in 1968.
Independence Maldives became fully independent as a sultanate outside the Commonwealth in 1965, with Ibrahim Nasir as prime minister. Nasir became president when the sultan was deposed for the second time in 1968 and the country became a republic. It rejoined the Commonwealth in 1982. The UK had an air-force staging post on the southern island of Gan 1956–75, and its closure meant a substantial loss of income. The president nevertheless refused a Soviet offer in 1977 to lease the former base, saying that he did not want it used for military purposes again nor leased to a superpower. From the 1970s tourism developed, transforming the islands.
In 1978 Nasir announced that he would not stand for re-election, and the Majilis nominated Maumoon Abd Gayoom, a member of Nasir's cabinet, as his successor. Nasir went to Singapore but was called back to answer charges of misusing government funds. He denied the charges, and attempts to extradite him failed. Despite rumours of a plot to overthrow him, Gayoom was re-elected for a further five years 1983. Under Gayoom, economic growth accelerated, based on fishing and expansion in tourism in a way which limited the impact on traditional Muslim communities. Overseas, Gayoom broadly adhered to his predecessor's policy of non-alignment, but also began to develop closer links with the Arab nations of the Middle East, and in 1985 rejoined the Commonwealth and was a founder member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
Coup attempt In November 1988, soon after being re-elected for a third term, Gayoom was briefly ousted in an attempted coup led by Abdullah Luthufi, an exiled entrepreneur from the atoll of Adu, which favoured secession. Luthufi had recruited a force of 200 Tamil mercenaries in Sri Lanka, and was thought to have the backing of former president Nasir. Gayoom was restored to office after the intervention of Indian paratroops. President Gayoom was re-elected in 1993, 1998, and 2003.
After the 2003 election, Gayoom faced growing pressure for liberalization of the country's autocratic political system. In response, the president appointed women to the Majlis and in 2005 political parties were allowed to form. Two main parties emerged, the Maldivian People's Party (DRP), led by Gayoom, and the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). There was civil unrest in August 2004 and August 2005 and an abortive effort by the MDP, known as the Orange Revolution, to overthrow Gayoom. In March 2006, President Gayoom published a roadmap for reform, with a deadline for a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution in time for multiparty elections in 2008.
In December 2004, the Asian tsunami caused devastation to homes and the country's economically crucial tourist resorts, requiring a major rebuilding programme.
Nasheed wins Maldives' first multiparty presidential elections The Maldives held its first multiparty presidential elections in October 2008. After finishing well ahead in the first round, with 40% of the vote, the incumbent president Gayoom was defeated in the second-run-off round by Mohamed Nasheed, of the MDP, losing by a margin of 46% to 54% of the vote. Nasheed, popularly known as ‘Anni’, assumed office as president in November 2008, heading a multiparty coalition government.
Nasheed had campaigned on a reform platform and was a former political prisoner, who had suffered repeated detention when a journalist critical of the Gayoom regime and had been involved in the Orange Revolution in 2005.
President Nasheed pledged to achieve a fairer distribution of wealth, tackle youth drug problems, ensure media freedeom, and make the Maldives ‘carbon neutral’ within a decade by switching to wind and solar power. However, the opposition used its control of parliament, after May 2009 elections, to block many initiatives and in May 2011 there were opposition street protests against rising food prices.
Matters came to a head between December 2011 and February 2012, starting with popular protests against Nasheed and culminating with the controversial arrest of the chief justice, after he had ordered the release of a government critic. This provoked a police and army mutiny and, following weeks of demonstrations, Nasheed resigned and vice-president Mohamed Waheed Hussain became interim president. Nasheed claimed he had been forced out in a coup, but an August 2012 Commonwealth-backed investigation rejected this.
Yameen becomes president Nasheed had called for presidential elections to be held in late 2012 or early 2013. But they were delayed until September 2013 and then annulled and re-held in November 2013. The eventual winner was Abdulla Yameen, a half-brother of former president Gayoom and a member of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), formed by Gayoom in 2011. He narrowly defeated Nasheed by a 51% to 49% margin.
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