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Maldives Modern History

The British Protectorate of Maldives became an independent nation on July 26, 1965. Three years later, a constitution was adopted which made the country a republic. In 1978, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom became president, a post he held until 2008. During Gayoom, opposites were subjected to repression, but his period in power was also characterized by a rapid economic upturn. 2008 started a democratization.

At independence, Britain acquired the right to retain the air base on the island of Gan in southern Maldives. The air base remained British until 1976.

In 1968, Amir Ibrahim Nasir, who had been prime minister since 1957, was elected the first independent Maldives president. Nasir announced in 1978 that he would not run for re-election. His former Minister of Communications and UN Ambassador Maumun Abdul Gayum became President the same year after a referendum. Nasir was accused of stealing money from the Treasury and leaving the country.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Maldives. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

Gayum ruled the country with authoritarian methods. Regime criticism was not tolerated and political parties were banned. Gayum in 1980 accused Nasir of being involved in a failed coup attempt. Ten years later, Gayum pardoned his representative, citing his efforts for Maldives independence.

Contemporary History of MaldivesA coup attempt is averted

A more serious attempt to oust President Gayum was made in 1988, when some 80 mercenaries went ashore in the capital Malé, capturing several ministers and senior officials. Gayum managed to hide and make contact with the Indian government, which sent soldiers to Malé. The coup attempt was averted in a few hours but still required about 20 casualties. The mercenaries were reported to be members of a Tamil separatist movement in Sri Lanka and hired by a Maldivian businessman.

During the 1990s, signs of political thunderstorms began to appear. Gayum talked about sharing power, but several setbacks occurred and government critics continued to be persecuted. Opposition people were imprisoned or banished to uninhabited atolls.

In fact, Gayum maintained a firm grip on power. He secured his position, among other things, by providing key posts to close family members. Several of his brothers sat in the government.

After the deaths in connection with a 2003 prison riot, riots broke out in Malé. It helped Gayum to initiate political reforms. In May 2004, an assembly was appointed with the task of proposing a new, more democratic constitution. Many observers saw it as a result of both domestic demands and foreign attention about political oppression.

On December 26, 2004, the Maldives was hit by the huge tidal waves (tsunami) caused by a powerful earthquake in the Indian Ocean. Almost the entire island, including Malé, temporarily landed under the sea. The consequences became less severe than elsewhere due to the coral reefs around the islands dampening the flood waves. About 100 people were killed. One third of the population was affected in some way by the disaster: housing was damaged or destroyed, and many were temporarily without water and food.

Political parties are allowed

In June 2005, Parliament approved a government proposal to allow political parties to operate within the country. The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which had been formed a few years earlier, was among the first to register. President Gayum founded the Maldivian People's Party (DRP).

Violent crows erupted again in Malé in April 2007 after a man was found dead in the port district. The man was a supporter of the MDP, who said he had evidence that he had been beaten to death in a police raid. An autopsy performed in Sri Lanka later showed that the man died by drowning. The death sparked strong feelings among the country's regime opponents and people went out on the capital's streets and threw stones and other things at the police and set "public property" on fire.

In August 2007, a referendum was held on the new constitution that was being drafted. The question was whether the country would have a British model parliamentary system, or US presidential rule. President Gayum and his party DRP advocated the latter option, which also won by a wide margin.

In September 2007, a simple explosive charge exploded in a park next to Malé's largest mosque. Twelve foreign tourists were injured in the bombing, which was the first of its kind in the Maldives. Three men were later sentenced to 15 years in prison for the assault. They must have acknowledged that the purpose was to harm non-Muslims and disrupt the tourism industry. Gayum proclaimed that it was necessary to begin taking force against militant Islamists.

New democratic constitution

The new democratic constitution of the Maldives came into force in August 2008. It happened after just over four years of debate in Parliament. The most important changes in the constitution were that the legislative, executive and judicial powers were separated and that a number of fundamental freedoms and rights were included in the constitution (see Political system).

The constitution also provided for multi-party to be held. The first Democratic presidential election was held in October 2008. Gayum was running in the hope of securing a seventh term. A further five candidates stood, including Democratic activist and MDP leader Mohamed Nashid, who had been imprisoned more than 20 times during Gayum's time in power.

In the first round, Gayum received 40 percent of the vote against 25 percent for Nashid, while the others split the rest. Since no one received at least half of the voters' votes, a second round of voting was held. Now Nashid won with 54 percent of the vote against 46 percent for Gayum.

As a result, Gayum's 30-year reign was broken by one of his sharpest critics and power shifted to the opposition within the MDP. The new president initially received a lot of attention in the outside world, including when he promised that within ten years the Maldives would become the world's first country to completely stop greenhouse gas emissions. While the Maldives' share of global emissions is minimal, Nashid wanted to make a political mark. As another symbolic act, Nashid held a government meeting four meters below the sea level in a lagoon. All ministers were dressed in diving suits.

Political turbulence

But Nashid's time as president was soon marked by constant adversity. In the parliamentary elections held in May 2009, Gayum's party DRP became the largest and could, by allying itself with small parties and independent members, set the wheels for the MDP government's reform program.

Political contradictions grew when President Nashid in early 2012 allowed the chief judge to arrest the country's criminal court, which he considered hindered corruption investigations against top politicians in the DRP. The arrest led to a protest storm against Nashid, who announced his departure in February. According to Nashid himself, he was forced to leave the presidential post following threats from the military and police. However, the circumstances surrounding his departure remained unclear.

Nashid was succeeded by his Vice President Wahid Hassan, who formed a government with many veteran politicians from Gayum's time in power. Nashid refused to acknowledge the new rulers.

In the summer of 2012, Nashid was indicted for dismissing the chief judge on illegal grounds. He was arrested in early 2013 but could still run in the presidential election in the fall of that year. However, the election process became something of a father's. When it became clear that Nashid won the first round, the second round was postponed and eventually the entire election was annulled. It was delayed a few more times before it was finally implemented in November. Nashid again won the first round but was defeated by Gayum's half brother Abdulla Yamin in the second.

Yamin's new party, the Maldives Progressive Party (PPM), also won the parliamentary elections held in March 2014.

Conflict around the Supreme Court

In early 2015, Nashid was sentenced to 13 years in prison for violating the terrorist laws when he deposed the chief judge. The ruling was criticized by both the opposition and human rights organizations.

An explosion aboard President Yamin's boat in September 2015 led to Vice President Ahmed Adib being arrested a month later, suspected of treason. According to the US FBI, however, there was no evidence that it was an attack. The explosion occurred shortly after a number of government officials were dismissed, including the Minister of Defense.

In February 2018, the Supreme Court (HD) made a couple of decisions that came to have political consequences. HD unexpectedly acquitted Nashid and eight other opposition politicians from the crimes they were convicted of and ordered that the trials be redone. Former Vice President Ahmed Adib also had his sentence annulled. The reason was that, according to HD, their lawsuits violated the Constitution and international law.

The HD also decided that twelve former MPs who were kicked out of the legislative assembly by Yamin when they resigned from his party would regain their seats. Among them was Ahmed Adib. The decision meant that the opposition would regain the majority in Parliament.

Yamin wins the power struggle

President Yamin responded to the HD decisions by dismissing the Chief of Police since he said that the imprisoned politicians would be released. On the streets of Malé, rattles broke out. The situation worsened when a few days later the government disbanded Parliament to prevent Yamin from being brought before the national court.

Then the government announced that it did not intend to allow the imprisoned politicians to be released. The riots increased when President Gayum unexpectedly was arrested, suspected of bribing two of the HD judges in order to overthrow the government. The two half-brothers Yamin and Gayum were now political enemies.

At dawn on February 6, 2018, security forces stormed the Supreme Court and seized Chief Judge Abdulla Said and another judge. According to police, they were suspected of bribery. Yamin then introduced a state of emergency, which was claimed on March 22.

Gayum is imprisoned

The following day, the Supreme Court's remaining three judges upheld the decision to annul the lawsuits against opposition politicians, including Nashid, who was in exile. On February 19, the three HD judges withdrew the decision that the twelve excluded opposition parliamentarians should get their seats back.

President Yamin thus seemed to have won the acute phase of the ongoing political power struggle. With large parts of the opposition imprisoned or in exile, the government announced in June 2018 that presidential elections would be held in September of that year.

A few days later, Gayum was sentenced to 19 months in prison for trying to stop the investigation into the alleged conspiracy against Yamin. According to the court, Gayum refused to give investigators access to detailed information on his mobile phone.

 
 

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