Maldives

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Maldives

Maldives (măl´dēvz, –dīvz), Divehi Divehi, officially Republic of Maldives, republic (2005 est. pop. 349,000), 115 sq mi (298 sq km), off the coast of S Asia in the N Indian Ocean. Malé is the capital and the largest island.

Land and People

The Maldives stretch c.500 mi (800 km) from north to south in the N Indian Ocean, SW of Sri Lanka. They consist of about 25 atolls made up of some 1,200 coral islands that are the exposed tops of a submarine ridge. They have a tropical monsoon climate modified by their marine location. The islands, which are mostly very low lying, are covered with tropical vegetation, particularly coconut palms. About 200 of the islands are inhabited, and some have freshwater lagoons. Maldivians are of mixed Dravidian, Sinhalese, Arab, and African stock, and nearly all are Sunni Muslims. The predominant language is Divehi, a Sinhala dialect.

Economy

Tourism and fishing are the chief sources of income. Coconuts and coconut products (especially copra) are also important. Corn, sweet potatoes, and tropical fruit are raised for local consumption, but most staple foods must be imported. Industry is limited, consisting primarily of fish and coconut processing, shipping, boat building, garment and handicraft production, and coral and sand mining. In recent years the government has encouraged more foreign investment. Fish is the largest export, while petroleum products, ships, foodstuffs, clothing, and capital goods are the main imports. Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Great Britain, and the United Arab Emirates are the major trading partners.

Government

The Maldives are governed under the constitution of 2008. The president, who is both head of state and head of government, is popularly elected to a five-year term. The unicameral legislature consists of the People's Council or Majlis; its 85 members are directly elected from single member constituencies. Legislators serve five-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into 19 atolls and the capital city.

History

The Maldives were originally settled by peoples who came from S Asia. Islam was brought to the islands in the 12th cent. Starting in the 16th cent., with the coming of the Portuguese, the Maldives were intermittently under European influence. In 1887 they became a British protectorate and military base but retained internal self-government. The Maldives obtained complete independence as a sultanate in 1965, but in 1968 the ad-Din dynasty, which had ruled the islands since the 14th cent., was ended and a republic was declared.

Following the British withdrawal from their base on the southernmost island of Gan in 1976, first the Soviet Union, then India and Sri Lanka courted Maldivian favor. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was first elected president in 1978 and retained power for three decades, ruled in an authoritarian manner. Indian troops landed in the Maldives in 1988 to foil one of several coup attempts. In the late 1980s the Maldives joined with a number of coral atoll nations to raise international awareness of the consequences of global warming, and in 1989 hosted an international conference to discuss this issue.

Beginning in 2003 the country experienced occasional antigovernment demonstrations that called for political reforms. The Dec., 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami caused severe damage to many of the country's low-lying islands, and hurt the important fishing and tourist industries. In the Jan., 2005, nonpartisan elections for the Majlis, candidates supported by the banned opposition party won 18 of the elected seats. President Gayoom subsequently called for the establishment of a multiparty democracy by the end of the year, and the Majlis approved the changes in June, but opposition party leader Mohamed Nasheed was arrested at a prodemocracy rally later in the year and charged with treason and terrorism. Opposition activists continued to face repressive government measures in 2006.

Following a bombing in Sept., 2007, that was linked to Islamic militants, the president issued a wide-ranging decree designed to promote moderate Islam and suppress Islamic extremism. In Aug., 2008, a new constitution was adopted that allowed for direct election of the president, multiparty elections, and other democratic reforms; two months later, Mohamed Nasheed was elected president, defeating Gayoom after a runoff. The May, 2009, Majlis elections were won by the opposition, however, and in mid-2010 increasing tensions between the government and Majlis, especially the refusal of the Majlis to confirm supreme court appointments, led the cabinet to resign en masse in protest. In Aug., 2010, the court members were confirmed, but relations between the government and Majlis remained difficult.

During 2011 poor economic conditions led to protests against the government. After the military arrested the top criminal court judge in Jan., 2012, several weeks of demonstrations by Gayoom supporters and others culminated in a police mutiny and the forced resignation of Nasheed (February). He was succeeded as president by Vice President Mohammed Waheed Hassan. Nasheed was later (July) charged with illegally ordering the arrest of the judge. In Aug., 2012, a report by a Commonwealth-backed Maldives commission called the succession constitutional; the report led to protests in the Maldives.

Nasheed placed first in the Sept., 2013, presidential election, but he failed to win a majority, forcing a runoff with Adbulla Yameen, Gayoom's half-brother. The vote, however, was annulled by the supreme court after the third-place candidate, businessman Qasim Ibrahim, alleged vote fraud. A new election in November led to similar results, and Yameen subsequently won the runoff. In the Mar., 2014, legislative elections, the president's party won a plurality; Nasheed's party placed second. Prior to the vote, the supreme court had convicted the election commission of contempt of court and dismissed the chairman of the commission, who had criticized the court's interference in the 2013 presidential election.

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