| 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.
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