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Last updated : Nov 2009
Maldives History
Maldives History - TravelPuppy.com
The Dhivehin, as the islanders are known as, is a mixed population of Aryan, Negroid, Sinhalese, Dravidian and Arab ancestry. The islands were controlled by Muslims from the 12th century, and then Portuguese ruled from 1518 prior to becoming a dependency of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1645. In 1887, they were a British Protectorate, with an elected Sultan as head of state. The islands changed to a republic, for a short time, in 1953-4 and gained complete independence as a sultanate in 1965. 3 years later, the Republic of the Maldives Islands was re-established and Ibrahim Nasir, Prime Minister since 1954, became the President.

In 1978, President Nasir came to a decision not to serve the 3rd term as President, and was replaced by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Gayoom – the dominant figure in the islands’ politics since then – established a ‘Citizens’ Special Majlis’ (legislature), which started work in 1980 with a brief to update the constitution. Following a 17-year work, the new model constitution was ratified by President Gayoom and went into effect in January 1998. In 1985, the Maldives was a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) and hosted regional summits in 1990 and 1997.

Two significant issues have dominated the current political agenda. First, is the relationship with India, in spite of the assistance of Indian troops in stopping an attempted coup in 1988, bilateral relations have been sketchy, mainly due to various economic and trade quarrels and are presently the focus of a permanent commission on economic and technical co-operation. Secondly, the Maldives are among those small low-lying islands – 80% of the territory is a mere 1 metre above sea level – which have become progressively concerned by global climate changes that endanger their very existence. The Government was particularly concerned by the American rejection of the Kyoto protocol on greenhouse gas emissions.

Islam is a main feature of the country’s life and is governed by Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, functioning under direct presidential control. With no formal political parties, the Maldives’ politics are personality based; no real threat to Gayoom has emerged in the twenty years during which he has been in power. At the most recent election in October 1998, he received 90% of the vote.