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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country Profile

Area: 90,000 sq km (only 1% land)
Population: 315,885 (2010 World Bank)
Capital City: Malé (population approx 103,693)
People: Ethnically homogenous, Maldivians have South Indian, Sinhalese and Arab roots.
Languages: Dhivehi, though English is widely spoken on resort islands and in Malé
Religion(s): 100% Islam (Sunni Muslims). It is illegal to publicly practice any other religion.
Currency: Rufiyaa, divided into 100 larees
Major political parties: Maldivian Democratic Party and Dhivehi Rayiithunge Party. A number of smaller political parties also operate in Maldives.
Government: Independent sovereign Republic with a presidential system of government
Head of State: His Excellency Mohammed Waheed
(Acting) Foreign Minister: Dr Asim Ahmed
Membership of international groupings/organisations: Member of 59 international organisations including the following: The Commonwealth, SAARC, UN, WHO, Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Non-Aligned Movement.

Did You Know?

-- It is illegal to consume alcohol in Maldives, except on holiday resorts.

-- The land of the Maldives consists of around 1% of its total 90,000 square kilometres.

-- No island exceeds a length of 4.5 miles or an altitude of 6 feet above sea level.

Women play a major role in society.


-- A Muslim weekend is followed: Friday and Saturday.
-- Malé is one of the most densely populated cities in the world.

-- The annual number of tourist arrivals is greater than the total population of Maldives.

Education

The literacy rate is almost 100%, with schools following the British system of education. There are government, community and private schools. Over 30% of teachers are expatriates. Over two-thirds of the total number of pupils are enrolled in primary education. There are many islands with few inhabitants; 38% of schools have 100 pupils or less, and 70% of schools have 300 pupils or less. There are 24 schools in Malé, with 351 other schools spread over the other 20 administrative atolls. Of the 7,807 teachers in 2009, over 30% are expatriates. The overall teacher to student ratio is 1:20, however 20% of permanent teachers are untrained.

Travel

Maldives is five hours ahead of GMT. Electricity supply is 240 volts using both round and square pin plugs.

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HEALTH

There are two hospitals on the main island Malé and six regional hospitals serving all the remaining islands. In addition, there are 45 smaller scale health centres and 36 health posts serving the islands. See http://www.ukinmaldives.fco.gov.uk (http://www.ukinmaldives.fco.gov.uk) for more details of local medical centres and hospitals.

Infectious diseases are under control, with less than 50 cases of Tuberculosis reported, but dengue fever is common. Malaria has been eradicated and the number of HIV/AIDS cases reported is very small.

Sensible precautions should be taken to avoid sunburn and dehydration.

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ECONOMY

Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US$ 1.8bn (IMF, 2011 est)
GDP per head: US$5,841 (IMF, 2011 est)
GDP Growth: 8.0% (IMF, 2011 est)
Human Development Index Ranking: 107th out of 168 countries (UN, 2010)
Inflation: 6.5% (IMF, 2011 est)
Major Industries (as a % of GDP): Tourism (29%), Transport and Communications (20%); Government (18%), Manufacturing (7%), Construction (6%), Fishing (3%),
Export partners (goods): Thailand (49%), EU27 (31%), Sri Lanka (9.5%), Japan (2.9%), Iran (2.9%) (WTO, 2009)
Import partners (goods): Singapore (21.3%), UAE (18%), EU27 (11.5%), India (10.4%), Malaysia (7.7%) (WTO, 2009)
Total exports: US$ 163 million (2009) 90% agricultural products
Total imports: US$ 967 million (2009) 24% agricultural products, 12% fuels, 60.7% manufacturing
Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index ranking: 143th of 180 countries (2011)
World Bank Doing Business Ranking: 85th of 183 countries (2011)
Maldives economy is dominated by tourism, which accounts for a third of GDP, over 60% of foreign exchange receipts and 90% of government tax revenues. Over half a million people visit the islands each year. The traditional fishing industry now only accounts for 3% GDP, although it remains an important source of employment (11% of the population) and exports (over $80 million in 2009). The manufacturing and agricultural sectors are small, constrained by a low skilled workforce and lack of cultivable land.

The global economic recession affected tourism levels, such that GDP fell by 2.25% in 2009. Imports to Maldives have also been volatile in recent years, given Maldives reliance on imports of commodities. Even though tourism rebounded in 2010, the current account deficit was estimated at 32% of GDP, due to higher commodity prices.

The IMF has categorised Maldives as a moderate risk of debt default, due to concerns over its fiscal budgets. In December 2009, The IMF stepped in to provide Maldives with a $79.3mn standby loan, but last year refused to release the second tranche in November 2010, due to a lack of progress on cutting fiscal expenditure and reforms.

The government has since introduced a tourism goods and services tax and a business profit tax to raise revenue, but on the expenditure side, public sector and welfare reforms have been delayed due to political opposition. The fiscal deficit in 2010 is estimated to have been 18% of GDP, down from 29% in 2009.

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HISTORY

Maldives was an independent Sultanate from 1153 until the Portuguese invaded in 1558. They ruled for a short span of 15 years until overthrown in 1573. On December 16, 1887 the Sultan of the Maldives signed a contract with the British Governor of Ceylon turning Maldives into a British protectorate. Maldives gained independence on July 26, 1965 and became a republic on 11 November 1968. It joined the Commonwealth in 1982.

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Maldives' relation with the UK

Relations between the UK and Maldives have consistently been friendly, with the UK increasing its engagement with Maldives since 2004 over support for its democratic reform process and issues such as climate change. The Queen visited Maldives in 1972, while a sizable number of Maldivians visit the UK every year for education and leisure purposes.

The Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) programme in Maldives closed in 2009 as the islands rating on the UN's Human Development Index (HDI) has considerably improved in recent years.

In October 2010, the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) visited Maldives. A small delegation of British MPs and members of the House of Lords met with the then President, Mohamed Nasheed, and the corresponding Maldivian branches.

The Republic of Maldives joined the UN in 1965 and is a founder member of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC). It is also a member of the Commonwealth. Since the 1980s, Maldives has consistently voiced its concerns about the affects of climate change. In March 2009, President Nasheed pledged Maldives would be carbon neutral by 2020.

There is no British diplomatic mission in Maldives. The British High Commission in Sri Lanka is accredited to Maldives.

UK Development Assistance

Most UK development assistance is through multi-lateral agencies. Work supporting UK objectives in Maldives is funded through the Bilateral Programme Fund.


Cultural Relations with the UK

The British Council has been active in Maldives for many years and currently has an office in the National Library. It provides advice for Maldivians wishing to study in the UK, and provides access to UK qualifications.

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GEOGRAPHY

The Republic of Maldives, lying about 420 miles south west of Sri Lanka, consists of a chain of 26 natural coral atolls comprising some 1,190 islands. 200 of these islands are inhabited, more than 90 are designated tourist islands, and 20 are industrial islands. The average height of the Maldives islands is 1.5m above sea level. The capital Malé is an area of under 2 square kilometres, and the highest point above sea level in Maldives is 2.4m.

Maldives was seriously affected by the tsunami on 26 December 2004 which killed 83 people and virtually destroyed 14 inhabited islands, three of which have been permanently abandoned. 5% of the population lost their homes, 12,000 people were displaced, 8% of the fishing fleet sustained damaged, and a quarter of the resort islands closed for repairs.

Population

The population is approximately 315,885 (20010 World Bank). Over 40% of the population is under 15 years old. The growth rate is 2.86%. Malé is home to approximately 103,693 people, of which at least 20,000 are foreign labourers from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Around 80% of islands have less than 1,000 inhabitants.

Tourism

There are currently 296 tourist establishments in Maldives, with over 90 islands dedicated to tourism. The average length of stay is 7.6 days. There were over 700,000 tourists in 2010. 15% of tourists in 2010 were from China, 14.4% from the UK and 11.3% from Italy.

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TRADE AND INVESTMENT

Trade and Investment with the UK

In 2010, UK exports to Maldives stood at £5.6m, down 3% on 2009. Imports from the UK amounted to £8.2m, down 4% on 2009.

Britain's main exports to Maldives are machinery, construction materials and consumer goods, including food and drink. The UK's main investment in Maldives is a joint venture between Cable and Wireless and the Maldivian government to operate its telecommunication services.

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POLITICS

Maldives ratified their new constitution on 7 August 2008. Hailed as the reform constitution, it established the mechanisms for multiparty democracy in Maldives. It allows for a Presidential system of governance, separation of powers, multiparty democracy, decentralised governance and a host of fundamental freedoms previously unprecedented in Maldives. Unlike previous constitutions, the reform constitution enables all Sunni Maldivians to contest for the Presidency irrespective of their gender. This constitution was the culmination of a 4-year reform process initiated by Maldives.

Legislative authority is exercised by the People’s Majlis, consisting of 77 members. Each MP represents a constituency of a maximum of 5,000 people. The currently People’s Majlis was composed after the first multiparty parliamentary election was held in the country in May 2009.

President Mohamed Nasheed is the first democratically elected leader of Maldives. A former political prisoner, President Nasheed has led the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) led coalition government since 11 November 2008. President Nasheed and the MDP came to power vowing the establishment of ‘Another Maldives’ with five key campaign pledges: establishment of a national transport system; reducing the cost of living; eradication of drugs; affordable housing, and affordable healthcare. He was preceded by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) who led Maldives from 1978-2008.

On 7 February 2012, President Nasheed announced his resignation and the Vice-President, Dr Mohammed Waheed, the leader of a coalition partner in the government, assumed power immediately.

Reform process:

After riots in Malé in September 2003, following the death of a prison inmate allegedly as a result of custodial brutality and calls for reform from opposition groups, the then President Gayoom set up a Human Rights Commission, and identified five strategic areas of action. These were strengthening democratic institutions and processes of governance; placing emphasis on establishing an inclusive government; streamlining public service and increasing productivity; instituting modern management practices and strengthening the role of the family.

At the opening of the People's Majlis (Parliament) in February 2004, President Gayoom announced that he intended to convene a People’s Special Majlis (a constituent assembly) to draft amendments to the constitution aimed at further strengthening democracy. The Special Majlis, for which elections were held in May 2004, is made up of members elected directly, all members of the People's Majlis and the Cabinet, and presidential appointees.

In a speech made on 9 June 2004, President Gayoom proposed wide-ranging constitutional reforms to develop and strengthen democracy in Maldives. These included creating the right to establish political parties, a greater separation of powers, establishing the office of Prime Minister, limiting the terms of President to two of five years each and allowing women to stand for the presidency. These ideas, together with suggestions sent in (at the President’s invitation) by the Maldivian public were to be debated by the Special Majlis.

Democratic Reform:
Following pro-reform demonstrations in Male' on 12 and 13 August 2004 (which ended in violence), the Maldivian authorities declared a state of emergency and arrested some 200 people including 10 members of the Special Majlis. Following allegations of mistreatment of detainees, representatives of the EU called on the Foreign Minister to express their concern.

The state of emergency was lifted on 10 October but some of the members of the Special Majlis remained in detention until the end of the year, when the Asian Tsunami struck Maldives. President Gayoom pardoned those involved in the August demonstrations, dropping all charges. A parliamentary election was held on 22 January 2005. A significant number of pro-reform candidates were elected including some supporters of a self-exiled opposition party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

The Maldivian Democratic Party along with other developing political parties in the country officially registered in Maldives after President Gayoom ratified the political parties act in June 2005. The reform process from 2004-2008 saw numerous opposition protests, delays in constitutional reform and in 2006 mediation by the British High Commission in Colombo between the government and the main opposition, MDP in support for the promotion of peaceful political dialogue to resolve conflict. As part of the constitutional reform agenda a referendum was held in 2007 to decide on a system of governance, which resulted in the establishment of the Presidential system. The country’s first multiparty Presidential elections were held in October 2008 following the ratification of the reform constitution. Six candidates contested in the election, where no candidate received more than 50% of the popular vote, leading to a second round run off between former President Gayoom and President Nasheed. President Nasheed won the second round with 54.25% of the vote.

Maldives new constitution had a number of transitional measures, which expired in August 2010. The President tried to bring a number of key reforms, but faced opposition in the Majlis. On 29 June 2010 the Cabinet resigned on masse claiming individuals were conspiring to prevent the government from functioning effectively. Political tension increased on 14 July 2010 when the government-led Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) organised a large rally in the capital, Malé, which resulted in clashes with opposition supporters. A senior opposition MP was taken into ‘protective custody’ and held at a Presidential retreat. This caused the Speaker to suspend Parliament, with questions over whether the detention was constitutional. Yameen was released on 23 July without charge. On 10 August, the Parliament passed the Judges Act and endorsed nominees to the Supreme Court, ending the immediate political impasse.

The first ever local council elections took place peacefully on 5 February 2011. The MDP secured the majority of seats in the population centres, including the capital, and the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) won the majority of the island and atoll councils.

In September 2011, the Islamist Adhaalath Party (AP) left the ruling coalition, citing a lack of consultation on key decisions.

On 16 January 2012, the Maldivian military detained Chief Criminal Court Judge, Abdulla Mohamed. This led to demonstrations in the capital, Malé. On 7 February 2012, following a night of violent protests, President Nasheed resigned..

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HUMAN RIGHTS

Maldives has ratified all six of UN Human Rights Conventions: Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention Against Torture, to name a new few. A Human Rights Commission was established in December 2003, but the independence of the commission was questioned and the Act implementing the commission was amended and ratified again in 2006.

Following pro-democracy demonstrations in 2003 and 2004, the 2004 Amnesty International and US State Department human rights reports highlighted concerns over freedom of expression and association in Maldives, with particular respect to political freedoms, the treatment of prisoners and access to justice. Amnesty International highlighted the existence of a small number of prisoners of conscience. In October 2004 the Maldivian Government and the international Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) signed a memorandum granting the ICRC access to all persons arrested and detained in Maldives. Amnesty International also secured government agreement to full and unrestricted access to detainees.

Since the development of the reform process and the transition of power in November 2008, there are no longer political prisoners in Maldives. President Nasheed, a former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience pledged to make Maldives a safe haven for writers and freedom of expression. Although many fundamental freedoms are guaranteed by the constitution, many require the passing of subsequent laws to fully implement these freedoms.

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CLIMATE CHANGE

Since the 1980s Maldives has consistently voiced its concerns on the importance of addressing the affects of climate change. With the height of its 1,200 coral islands averaging 1.5m about sea level, Maldives is extremely vulnerable to rising seas levels as a result of increasing global ocean temperatures. President Nasheed has declared Maldives to be a front line state in the battle against climate change and in March 2009, pledged that the country will be carbon neutral by 2020. Maldives has been actively seeking to build an ambitious international consensus in advance of Cancun and hosted the Climate Vulnerable Forum in late 2009 and the Second Meeting of the Cartagena Dialogue for Progressive Action in July 2010. Maldives remains committed to actively seeking an ambitious international consensus to tackle the global threat of climate change.

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Last Updated: February 2012

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