Situated in the middle of the Indian Ocean the 1,192 islands that make up the Maldives were always going to be an important resting place for traders between Asia and Africa.
There is a lot of conjecture about the early history of the islands, but we do know that Buddhism came to the country first, probably around 500 B.C. but it is only after Islam takes over in 1153 that records are more substantive. From this point a series of 84 sultans across six dynasties ruled the islands.
The Europeans arrived in the form of the Portuguese in the early 16th Century. Starting with trade, eventually the Portuguese invaded in 1558 and went on to rule the Maldives for the next 15 years. In 1573 a revolt led by a local leader called Muhammad Thakurufaanu Al-Azam drove the Portuguese out (or, more accurately, killed them all).
By the 17th century the Dutch were influencing events in the Maldives from their bases in Ceylon (called Sri Lanka today) but were themselves driven out of Ceylon by the British in 1796. The British were more interested in Ceylon than the Maldives and provided protection without greatly interfering in local affairs.
By the 1860s the Maldivians had allowed Bohra traders from Bombay to establish trading posts on the islands but what started as a good thing eventually threatened to engulf the Maldivians. So Sultan Mohammed Mueenuddin II signed an agreement with the British in 1887 formalising its status as a protectorate.
The British stayed until 1965 but the Maldives remained under the rule of a series of Sultans. In 1932 the British encouraged the idea of a Constitutional Monarchy; a constitution was written but soon abandoned.
From 1953 there was a brief period when a First republic was created, but it was short lived. It was on 26th July 1965 that the Maldives gained independence from the United Kingdom and the Second Republic was born.
The formal start of the republic took place in November 1968 when Ibrahim Nasir became the first President to hold the post for four years in an indirect election through the Majlis or parliament. He ran an authoritarian regime which only ended when he fled to Singapore in 1978 following the deepening unpopularity of the government.
Nasir was followed by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. At first he was very popular but as he served five terms in a row he became increasingly autocratic and was the subject of coup attempts in 1980 and 1983. A third more serious coup attempt in 1988 saw the intervention of Indian troops and the plotters were rounded up and imprisoned.
By 2004, despite an improving economy President Gayoom realised that his autocratic days were numbered and introduced reforms which allowed for a contest in the presidential election and saw the introduction of multi-party elections for the Majlis.
The reforms came into effect in August 2008 and in the October presidential election Gayoom was beaten in the second round by Mohamed Nasheed who took 53.65% of the vote.
In the parliamentary elections of May 2009 Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) took 26 of the 77 seats in the Majlis and the Maldivian Peoples Party (Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party, DRP) of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom won 28 seats.
Following civil strife on the islands, on 7th February 2012 President Mohamed Nasheed was forced to resign in what he has described as a coup d’état instigated by his Vice-President. His Vice-President, Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik, was sworn in as the new President of the Maldives on the same day.
The rivalry between the two men and their respective political forces continues. The calling of a presidential election for 7th September 2013 with a second round on 28th September will pit both men against each other once more.
The President is elected by popular vote for a five year term and may serve a second term. Parliament has put an age limit on the Presidency and Vice-Presidency of between 30 and 65 years old.
The unicameral People’s Council or People’s Majlis has 85 members elected to serve five year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Maldives at joint 95th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 36 (where 100 is least corrupt).