Maldives, also called Maldive Islands, independent island country consisting of a chain of about 1,200 small coral islands and sandbanks (some 200 of which are inhabited), grouped in clusters, or atolls, in the north-central Indian Ocean. The islands extend more than 510 miles (820 km) from north to south and 80 miles (130 km) from east to west. The northernmost atoll is about 370 miles (600 km) south-southwest of the Indian mainland, and the central area, including the capital island of Male (Male’), is about 400 miles (645 km) southwest of Sri Lanka.
||Dhivehi Raajjeyge Jumhooriyyaa (Republic of Maldives)
|Form of government
||multiparty republic with one legislative house (People’s Majlis )
|Head of state and government
||(2011 est.) 325,000
|Total area (sq mi)
|Total area (sq km)
The Maldive Islands are a series of coral atolls built up from the crowns of a submerged ancient volcanic mountain range. All the islands are low-lying, none rising to more than 6 feet (1.8 metres) above sea level. Barrier reefs protect the islands from the destructive effects of monsoons. The rainy season, from May to August, is brought by the southwest monsoon; from December to March the northeast monsoon brings dry and mild winds. The average annual temperature varies from 76 to 86 °F (24 to 30 °C). Rainfall averages about 84 inches (2,130 mm) per year. The atolls have sandy beaches, lagoons, and a luxuriant growth of coconut palms, together with breadfruit trees and tropical bushes. Fish abound in the reefs, lagoons, and seas adjoining the islands; sea turtles are caught for food and for their oil, a traditional medicine.
The Maldivians are a mixed people, speaking an Indo-European language called Dhivehi (or Maldivian; the official language); Arabic, Hindi, and English are also spoken. Islam is the state religion. The first settlers, it is generally believed, were Tamil and Sinhalese peoples from southern India and Sri Lanka. Traders from Arab countries, Malaya, Madagascar, Indonesia, and China visited the islands through the centuries. With the exception of those living in Male, the only relatively large settlement in the country, the inhabitants of the Maldives live in villages on small islands in scattered atolls. Only about 20 of the islands have more than 1,000 inhabitants, and the southern islands are more densely populated than the northern ones. The birth rate for the Maldives is somewhat higher than the world average, but the death rate is lower. About one-third of the total population is under 15 years of age.
One of the poorest countries in the world, Maldives has a developing economy based on fishing, tourism, boatbuilding, and boat repairing. The gross national product (GNP) per capita is among the lowest in the world. Most of the population subsists outside a money economy on fishing, coconut collecting, and the growing of vegetables and melons, roots and tubers (cassava, sweet potatoes, and yams), and tropical fruits. Cropland, scattered over many small islands, is minimal, and nearly all of the staple foods must be imported. Fishing, the traditional base of the economy, continues to be the most important sector, providing employment for approximately one-fourth of the labour force as well as accounting for a major portion of the export earnings. Tuna is the predominant fish caught, mostly by the pole-and-line method, although a good deal of the fishing fleet has been mechanized. Most of the fish catch is sold to foreign companies for processing and export.
The Maldives national shipping line forms the basis of one of the country’s commercial industries. Tourism is a fast-growing sector of the economy. Resort islands and modern hotels in Male have attracted increasing numbers of tourists during the winter months. Industries are largely of the handicraft or cottage type, including the making of coir (coconut-husk fibre) and coir products, boatbuilding, and construction. Imports include consumer goods such as food (principally rice), textiles, medicines, and petroleum products. Fish—mostly dried, frozen, or canned skipjack tuna—accounts for the bulk of exports. The United States, Sri Lanka, and Singapore are among the main trading partners. Boats provide the principal means of transport between the atolls, and scheduled shipping services link the country with Sri Lanka, Singapore, and India. There is a national airline, and the airport at Male handles international traffic.
Government and Society
The constitution of the Maldives was adopted in 2008. The head of state and government is the president, assisted by a vice president and a cabinet. The president and vice president are directly elected by universal suffrage to a maximum of two five-year terms. The cabinet consists of the vice president, government ministers, and the attorney general. With the exception of the vice president, members of the cabinet are appointed by the president.
The unicameral legislature, called the People’s Majlis, meets at least three times per year. Its members are elected to five-year terms from Male island and from each of the 20 atoll groups into which the country is divided for administrative purposes. The number of representatives from each administrative division is determined on the basis of population, with a minimum of two per division. The 2008 constitution established Islam as the official state religion. Non-Muslims cannot become citizens, and the People’s Majlis is prohibited from making any law that contravenes the tenets of Islam. Other governmental bodies include civil service and human rights commissions.
The highest legal authority is the Supreme Court. Its judges are appointed by the president in consultation with the Judicial Service Commission, a body of 10 members appointed or elected from various branches of the government and the general public. The Judicial Service Commission independently appoints all other judges. There are no judicial term limits; the mandatory retirement age is 70. All judges must be Sunni Muslims. The Supreme Court bases decisions upon the constitution and Maldives law; in cases in which applicable law does not exist, Shariah, (Islamic law) is considered. Other courts are the High Court and trial courts.
Most Maldivians rely on traditional medical practices when ill; Male has a small hospital. Major illnesses include gastroenteritis, typhoid, cholera, and malaria. Life expectancy is about 68 years for men and 67 for women.
Three types of formal education are available in the Maldives, including traditional schools (makthabs) designed to teach the reading and reciting of the Qurʾān, Dhivehi-language schools, and English-language primary and secondary schools. The English-language schools are the only ones that teach a standard curriculum and offer secondary-level education. Students must go abroad for higher education. Only about two-thirds of the school-age population is enrolled in schools.
The archipelago was inhabited as early as the 5th century bce by Buddhist peoples, probably from Sri Lanka and southern India. According to tradition, Islam was adopted in 1153 ce. Ibn Battutah, a notable North African traveler, resided there during the mid-1340s and described conditions at that time, remarking disapprovingly on the freedom of the women—a feature that has been noticeable throughout Maldivian history.
The Portuguese forcibly established themselves in Male from 1558 until their expulsion in 1573. In the 17th century the islands were a sultanate under the protection of the Dutch rulers of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and, after the British took possession of Ceylon in 1796, the islands became a British protectorate, a status formalized in 1887. In 1932, before which time most of the administrative powers rested with sultans or sultanas, the first democratic constitution was proclaimed, the country remaining a sultanate. A republic was proclaimed in 1953, but later that year the country reverted to a sultanate.
In 1965 the Maldive Islands attained full political independence from the British, and in 1968 a new republic was inaugurated and the sultanate abolished. The last British troops left on March 29, 1976, the date thereafter celebrated in the Maldives as Independence Day. Ibrahim Nasr, the country’s first president, was succeeded in 1978 by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was reelected to his sixth consecutive term in 2003. The Maldives became a member of the Commonwealth in 1982.
In December 2004 the Maldives was damaged by a large tsunami caused by a massive earthquake in the Indian Ocean off Indonesia. Scores of people were killed, and much property was damaged.
In the first years of the 21st century, Gayoom’s government embarked on a long-term plan to modernize and democratize the Maldives, particularly its economy and political system. The plan also identified the country’s legal system as inadequate. Beginning in 2003, wide-ranging reforms were instituted to improve human rights and the system of governance. A multiparty political system was created. In 2008 a new constitution was adopted that established greater governmental checks and balances, strengthened the powers of the legislature and judiciary, and allowed women to run for president. The country’s first multicandidate presidential election was held in October of that year, and former political prisoner Mohamed Nasheed was elected president, thus ending Gayoom’s 30 years in office. One of Nasheed’s plans was to obtain a new homeland in the region to which the Maldive islanders could eventually be resettled, as the low-lying islands were believed to be under serious threat from rising sea levels.
Police revolt forces Maldives President from office
In a day of dramatic developments on 07.02.2012 that captured both the fragility of democracy in the Maldives and also the maturity of its political institutions, President Mohammed Nasheed resigned in the face of a mutiny by policemen that he said he did not want to put down by force, handing over the reins of power to his Vice-President, Dr. Waheed.
If the morning started with the “coup” word being bandied about by observers, by evening the entire transition appeared orderly with Parliament endorsing the changeover and the streets of the capital city, Male, appearing calm even if vigorously policed.
According to Maldivian law, Dr. Waheed will hold office till the next elections in late 2013.
Earlier in the day, about 50 police personnel took control of the state broadcaster in the capital. They earlier refused to break up a demonstration of Opposition supporters. The Army stepped in and reportedly used teargas to break up the demonstration by supporters of the former President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Tensions have been on the rise since last November’s SAARC summit at which monuments of all participating nations were put up. The Opposition said this was an attempt to bring in other religions. The Pakistani monument, which had Buddhist drawings on its pedestal, and many others were vandalised.
The scene shifted to Male, with the Opposition accusing Mr. Nasheed of being a moderate Islamist who wanted to allow entry of other religions. It did not help that the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillai, in her speech at The Majlis, termed flogging barbaric and espoused the cause of women’s rights. Again, the Opposition flocked to Male.
Male held on because Mr. Nasheed’s support base was mainly in the two cities — the capital and Addu. Also, Mr. Nasheed and his team have been at pains to explain that the Opposition’s charges were baseless. Apart from speaking to people, the team went on a slander campaign against the opposition. The better equipped Opposition was up to the challenge. It responded with a series of charges and behind-the-scenes moves, including re-activating its people within the government machinery.
With Judge Abdullah’s arrest last month, the Nasheed regime alienated the entire judiciary, and lawyers. They too joined in the protests.
Mr. Nasheed has had a hard time since he came to power in 2008. He headed the first democratically elected government, but did not have adequate support in The Majlis, leading to an impasse on most issues of governance. Mr. Nasheed had had the staunch support of both Colombo and New Delhi so far. But he squandered this goodwill too.
Mohamed Nasheed: the Profile
Mohamed Nasheed, (born May 17, 1967, Male, Maldives), journalist, activist, and politician who was elected president of the Maldives in 2008.
Nasheed attended grammar school in Male before attending schools in Colombo, Sri Lanka (1981–82), and in West Lavington, Wiltshire, England (1982–84). He received a bachelor’s degree in maritime studies from Liverpool John Moores University in 1989.
Nasheed returned to the Maldives and in 1990 became assistant editor of the new magazine Sangu, which criticized the government of Pres. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Sangu was banned, and Nasheed was sentenced to house arrest. He was jailed later that year and was held in solitary confinement for 18 months. He was sentenced to three years in prison in 1992 but was released in 1993. Nasheed applied for government permission to form an independent political party in 1994, but his request was rejected. Beginning in April 1996 he served six months in prison for an article he wrote in a Philippine magazine about the 1993 and 1994 elections in the Maldives.
In 1999 Nasheed was elected to the Maldivian parliament, the People’s Majlis. He was arrested again in October 2001 and the following month was sentenced to two and a half years’ exile to a remote island. In March 2002, while in exile, he was expelled from the Majlis because he had not attended the parliament for six months; he was released in August. After riots in the capital, Male, in September 2003, Nasheed left the Maldives for Sri Lanka, and while in exile there he helped found the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in November 2004.
Nasheed returned to the Maldives in April 2005. That June the Maldivian government passed legislation allowing political parties to participate in elections, and as head of the MDP, Nasheed began a campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience designed to bring greater democracy to the Maldives. Detained again, he spent more than a year under house arrest (2005–06). In the first free presidential election in the Maldives, in October 2008, Nasheed defeated Gayoom with 54 percent of the vote.
As president, Nasheed became known internationally for his outspoken efforts toward halting climate change. All the Maldive Islands are low-lying, none rising to more than 6 feet (1.8 metres) above sea level. In 2009 Nasheed wrote, “Sea level rise of even half a metre would make much of [the Maldives] uninhabitable.…But the Maldives is no special case; simply the canary in the world’s coal mine.” The Maldives announced plans to become the world’s first carbon-neutral nation by 2020. Nasheed even held a cabinet meeting underwater to draw attention to the danger the Maldives would face from rising sea levels.
In June 2010 relations between Nasheed and the People’s Majlis reached a new low when Nasheed’s entire cabinet resigned to protest the parliament’s blocking of the Nasheed government’s initiatives. Nasheed reappointed his cabinet. However, the political situation was deadlocked: the opposition Maldive People’s Party did not have enough seats in the Majlis to impeach Nasheed, and Nasheed could not dismiss the Majlis until it had completed its five-year term.
Maldives since independence
Below are key dates in the history of the Maldives, a holiday paradise in the Indian Ocean which has been wracked by violence since Mohamed Nasheed, the archipelago’s first democratically elected president, resigned on 07.02.2012.
July 26, 1965: Full independence as a sultanate outside the British Commonwealth. Membership of the United Nations.
1968: Sultan removed after referendum. Republic installed with Ibrahim Nasir as president.
1978: Nasir retires, replaced by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who wins uncontested elections for the next 30 years.
1988: Coup attempt involving Sri Lankan mercenaries foiled with intervention of the Indian military.
1998: Gayoom wins a fifth term in a presidential referendum.
2003: Gayoom is sworn in for a sixth five-year term, after an election marred by street riots following the killing of two prisoners in a police shooting.
2004: State of emergency imposed after pro-democracy demonstrations. Dozens of government opponents are arrested.
The Indian Ocean tsunami, following an earthquake off Indonesia on December 26, leaves dozens dead and widespread destruction.
2005: Parliament votes in June for the installation of a multi-party system. Two months later the authorities have dozens of opponents arrested. The head of the main pro-democratic party, Mohamed Nasheed, is charged with terrorism.
2007: Twelve foreign tourists are injured in a bomb attack in Male.
2008: Gayoom escapes an assassination attempt in January.
In October, opposition leader Nasheed defeats Gayoom in the second round of the country’s first multi-party presidential election.
2009: The government holds an underwater cabinet meeting in a bid to focus international attention on rising sea levels that threatens to submerge the low-lying atoll nation.
May 1, 2011: Anti-government protesters, angered by soaring consumer prices, take to the streets of the Maldives for four nights to demand the resignation of Nasheed. The opposition says dozens are injured and arrested.
January 19, 2012: Hundreds of protesters take to the streets in Male, saying Nasheed acted unconstitutionally by ordering the army to arrest a senior judge.
February 7: Nasheed announces his resignation after a mutiny by the police and weeks of demonstrations. Vice President Mohamed Waheed is sworn in as the new head of state.
February 8: Nasheed says his resignation was forced by armed police and army officers in a coup plot hatched with the knowledge of his successor.
Clashes take place in Male and a number of outlying atolls.
February 9: Judge issues warrant for Nasheed’s arrest, but foreign diplomatic pressure delays its implementation.
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