Geography and Politics of Maldives

Geography of the Maldives

The Maldives is an island nation located in the Indian Ocean in the south of the Indian subcontinent and south-west of Sri Lanka. The country is 860 km from north to south and about 120 km at its widest There are a total of 1190 islands in the country, most of which are uninhabited. The largest natural atoll in the Maldives is Huvadhoo which is approximately 2800 sq/km while the smallest is Thoddoo. The country is administratively divided into 19 atolls, consisting of 189 inhabited islands.

Male’ is the capital island of the Maldives where nearly one third of the population resides. It is the centre of government and trade, making it one of the most congested cities in the world. It is also one of the smallest cities, being only about 2 sq/km. Over the years, the natural reef around Male’ has been reclaimed and today, the island is protected from the sea by a series of sea-walls and concrete tetrapods. The tetrapods protecting Male’ was donated by the people and government of Japan.

Tourism is the largest industry in the Maldives followed by fisheries. The first resort was established in the Maldives in 1972 on the island of Vihamanaafushi, which is now known as Kurumba. For centuries, fishing in the Maldives has been done in a very environmentally friendly way, with pole and line. Although the fishing industry has changed very much due to modern technologies, with sailing boats replaced by engine powered fishing vessels, pole and line fishing continues to be the main fishing method used by Maldivian fishermen.

Male’ the capital island is also home to many foreign workers mainly from the Asia region. The relatively recent development and expansion of the construction industry has brought in a large number of foreign labour from countries such as Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. A large number of foreign workers serve in the tourism industry. Expatriate workers from many parts of the world, of many professions, in particular doctors, nurses and teachers have made an immense contribution to the development of the Maldives over the years.


Politics and Governance of the Maldives

In August 2008, the Maldives adopted a new Constitution which for the first time in the country’s history, created a structure of governance which separated the three powers of the State – the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. As such, the Maldives is a country in transition to democracy, which is now experiencing a very challenging and eventful political process.

Historically Maldives was ruled by a monarchic system. The country changed to a republic in 1953 which failed and reverted to a monarchy, and later again in 1968 when the second republic was declared with President Ibrahim Nasir as Head of State. In 1978, President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom came to power and remained for 30 years until 2008, when he lost the first democratically held elections in 2008. This election was the country’s first multi-party, democratic, free and fair election, held in October 2008 making the then elected leader, Mr Mohamed Nasheed, it’s first democratically elected President. The current President of the Maldives is Mr Yaameen Abdul Gayyoom, who came to power in 2013 on a coalition ticket in a highly contested election when the electorate voted three times to elect the President. Today, there are several political parties in the Maldives.

The law-making body or legislature is the People’s Majlis. The last general election was held in March 2014 and a new Majlis consisting of 85 members were elected, who will begin their tenure as members of parliament, in May 2014.

The Maldives is an Islamic state by Constitution. Maldivian citizens are required to be Muslim, making the country one of the few nations in the world that is considered 100% Muslim. Although other religions are tolerated insofar as foreign residents are allowed to practice their faith privately, the public practice of any faith other than Islam is prohibited.

Alcohol is prohibited in Islam, as is pig meat, and these rules are enforced in the Maldives. The sale, possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages is prohibited in islands inhabited by local people. However, the resorts and some large hotels are exempt from this rule.