Country profile: The Maldives
Country profile: The Maldives
None of the coral islands measures more than 1.8 metres (six feet) above sea level, making the country vulnerable to a rise in sea levels associated with global warming.
With its abundant sealife and sandy beaches, The Maldives is portrayed by travel companies as a tropical paradise.
The economy revolves around tourism, and scores of islands have been developed for the top end of the tourist market.
Aside from the island capital Male, outsiders are only permitted onto inhabited islands for brief visits, thereby limiting their impact on traditional Muslim communities.
Many Maldivians live in poverty. However, the country has developed its infrastructure and industries, including the fisheries sector, and has boosted health care, education and literacy.
The Maldives was hit by the December 2004 Asian tsunami. Homes and resorts were devastated by the waves, precipitating a major rebuilding programme.
There is a fear that as sea levels rise, island countries such as the Maldives, and some Pacific territories, will simply be swamped and disappear.
President: Maumoon Abdul Gayoom
President Gayoom is Asia’s longest-serving leader. He was re-elected for a record sixth five-year term in 2003, having first taken office in 1978.
The Maldives has been relatively stable under his rule, despite attempted coups in the 1980s. He was saved from a would-be assassin wielding a kitchen knife by 15-year-old boy scout Mohamed Jaisham in January 2008.
Parliament voted to introduce a multi-party democracy in 2005. Previously, political parties had been banned, although there had been no official ban on political activity.
In 2006 President Gayoom presented a “roadmap” for the democratic reforms, which he said were meant to enhance human rights, independence of the judiciary and multi-party politics.
He had come under growing pressure, with human rights groups accusing him of running an autocratic state and unprecedented anti-government violence flaring in the streets.
Maldivian presidents are chosen in a yes-no referendum; voters are presented with a single candidate chosen by the Majlis, or parliament.
Under the current system, the president has great influence and appoints members of the cabinet and the judiciary. The president also appoints eight of the 50 Majlis members.
Under a new constitution, ratified by President Gayoom in August 2008, the country’s first multi-party presidential elections will be held by 10 October. The constitution also separates the executive and legislature and enshrines a bill of rights.
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was born in Male in 1937 and was educated in Sri Lanka and Egypt. He served as transport minister under President Ibrahim Nasir.
The government operates Voice of Maldives radio and Television Maldives. The country’s first private radio station opened in 2007 and a handful of private TV stations have been licensed.
Media rights group Reporters Without Borders describes radio licence charges as exorbitant. Minivan Radio, an opposition station, operates via the internet.
Divehi-language dailies tend to include some English-language pages. They concentrate on local and regional stories.
Broadcasters and newspapers carry criticism of the state, but officials have powers to close media outlets. Self-regulation means that little official action is taken against journalists.