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Maldives Politics + Government


The first settlements of the cluster of islands now known as the Republic of Maldives can be traced back more than 2,500 years. Buddhist and Hindu fishermen and sailors arrived from India on the tropical archipelago as early as 500 BC. They came in very small numbers and there was no attempt to set up a formal government. They worked together and built primitive shelters. It was a real struggle just trying to survive in such an isolated area of the world.

In the 12th century, the Settlers had all been converted to the Islamic faith. Again, there was no formal government structure, but there were some minor political battles over the allocation of scarce resources and the division of land.

By the 16th century, the Portuguese had made their way to the islands in their big sailing ships. They attempted to convert the population to Christianity, but, never succeeded in their mission. The Portuguese left the archipelago by the time the 16th century was coming to an end.

Over the next 300 years or so, Islam ruled the every day lives of the people that inhabited the islands. In the late 19th century, the Maldives came under the control of the British. The British Protectorate began in 1887 and remained in effect until 1965. In 1965, the Maldives gained their independence from Britain. The people were ruled during this period by a Sultan. There were no democratic elections and the sultanate continued up until November 11, 1968, when it was replaced by a republic.


The Maldives adopted their current form of government in 1968. Under the provisions of the constitution, the President is elected to a 5 year term by popular vote which must then be approved by the Majlis (legislature).
The President's responsibilities include being head of state, commander in chief of the armed forces, appointing a cabinet and he is the ultimate arbitrator over justice, with the power to pardon. He is also the chief spokesman for Islam in the Maldives.

There are 7 Provinces that are divided into 21 administrative divisions. The capital city of Male has its own administrative division and the other 20 divisions encompass the remaining atolls that make up the entire nation.

The judicial branch of the government rules on all legal issues in the Maldives. Judges are appointed by the president. A Chief Justice and 4 judges, in the highest court of the Maldives, all report directly to the President.


With the new republic in place, a constitution was drawn up giving the Maldives executive, legislative and judicial branches of their new government. The sultanate who had been the leader prior to the new republic, Ibrahim Nasir, was installed as President and held that position for 10 years. During that time, the Maldives had a population of a little more than 100,000. While there were some political issues, for the most part, the strong Islamic faith of the nation prevented civil unrest. The population lived frugally and there was very little crime in the Maldives.


At the time that Maumon Abdul Gayoom was first elected in 1978, the Maldives had only one political party - the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (Maldivian People's Party). The Constitution called for Presidential elections every 5 years. After winning the election in 1978, Maumon Abdul Gayoom was subsequently elected in 1983, 1988, 1993, 1998 and 2003. As a fairly popular incumbent in a single party electoral system, there were few candidates willing or able to challenge him when elections were held.

In 1988, Gayoom fought off an attack by Sri Lankin Tamil mercenaries who attempted to overthrow the Maldivian government. He quelled a prison riot in 2003 in the capital city of Male. Toward the end of what was to be his final term, political unrest started to increase among the citizens of the Maldives.

New political parties emerged in 2005 that promised better and fairer representation for the people. In the 2008 election, Gayoom was defeated by the candidate who represented the recently formed Maldivian Democratic Party. On November 11, 2008, Mohamed Nasheed became the President of Maldives.


As the new head of the executive branch of the island nation, Nasheed quickly took action. One of his first acts was to reduce the bureaucracy of the government. He shrunk the number of government ministries down from 21 to 14. The government focused on giving more attention and responsibility to the:

• Ministry of Economic Development and Trade
• Ministry of Finance and Treasury
• Ministry of Home Affairs
• Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Nasheed responded to a major concern of the population by making a concerted effort to address the serious climate change problem that is threatening the very existence of the Maldives. Rising tides, which can at least be partially attributable to climate change due to global warming, are slowly submerging the very low-lying islands of the Maldivian archipelago. The country has become one of the most diligent of all countries in the world at coming up with "green solutions" to protect the fragile environment.