Last updated in October 2018
Maldives gained independence from the United Kingdom on 26 July 1965. The country joined the Commonwealth in 1982 but withdrew on 13 October 2016, because it felt it had been treated unfairly by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) and the Commonwealth Secretariat, both of which had been following political developments in Maldives with concern.
It was not until 2005, during the democratisation and reform process, that political parties were allowed to be established in the country. In a referendum held on 18 August 2007, the Maldivian people opted for a presidential system modelled on the US Constitution.
The country’s new Constitution, which was drawn up on this basis, entered into force in August 2008. It provides that the Maldivian President is both head of state and head of government and is elected directly for a five-year term. Also enshrined in the Constitution for the first time is the separation of powers, and thus the independence of the judiciary. Maldives’ parliament, the People’s Majlis, is unicameral and its members are elected directly.
The Maldivian legal system is based on Sharia law and follows the Shafi’i school of law within Sunni Islam. However, Wahhabism is playing an increasing role, in part due to the support Maldives has received from Saudi Arabia. The legal system also includes elements of British common law, especially in the field of commercial law.
The Federal Republic of Germany has maintained diplomatic relations with the Republic of Maldives since 1966. The German Ambassador in Colombo is also accredited in Malé, where Germany has an honorary consulate.
Maldives opened an embassy in Berlin in September 2016. The country had previously maintained relations with Germany via its mission to the European Union in Brussels.
Developing stable democratic structures and the rule of law continues to be a significant challenge for the young republic. Since late 2013 in particular, national and international observers have complained about increasing structural weaknesses in the Maldivian judicial apparatus, about the judiciary’s politicisation and lack of independence and about a generally inadequate division of competences between the country’s constitutional organs. In July 2017, Maldives’ military and police forces temporarily sealed off parliament to prevent opposition politicians from entering the building. That same month, the Maldivian Home Affairs Minister announced that preparations were underway to reintroduce the death penalty after a six-decade moratorium. Important fundamental freedoms (in particular freedom of opinion, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press) and the independence of national institutions such as the Elections Commission, the Anti Corruption Commission and the Human Rights Commission have been substantially curtailed. On 5 February 2018, in response to a Supreme Court ruling that ordered the release of political prisoners and lifted the suspension of members of the People’s Majlis, the Maldivian President declared a state of emergency for 15 days, which he then extended for another 30 days on 20 February 2018. A presidential election was held on 23 September 2018 and won by the opposition party candidate. His inauguration is scheduled to take place on 17 November.
Consolidating democracy and the rule of law and ensuring respect for and protection of fundamental rights in Maldives are major concerns which the Federal Republic of Germany seeks to address both in bilateral dialogue with the country and in collaboration with the European Union. Germany is also supporting local civil society in Maldives through various projects.
Tourism is by far Maldives’ largest economic sector. It makes up around 29 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), while accounting for over 60 percent of foreign exchange earnings and over 38 percent of revenue from taxes and duties. German visitors have played a major role in making tourism the country’s most important economic sector. More than 112,000 German tourists visited Maldives in 2017, making Germans once again the second-largest group of visitors (8.1 percent), behind the Chinese (22.2 percent) and ahead of UK visitors (7.5 percent). Every year, the island nation has a high profile presence at the international travel trade show ITB Berlin.
Bilateral trade was worth 63 million euros in 2017, with German exports to Maldives amounting to 44.6 million euros and Maldivian exports to Germany 18.8 million euros.
Germany is working with Maldives on international climate policy, a major issue for the island nation, which is particularly vulnerable to the potential impact of climate change: 80 percent of its territory is less than a metre above sea level. Maldives has set itself the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2020. Until July 2015, as part of its International Climate Initiative, the Federal Environment Ministry supported this ambitious goal by funding a project to promote renewable energy that was implemented by experts from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).
Culture and education
The official language of Maldives is Dhivehi, a Sinhalese dialect. Dhivehi has its own unique script, called Thaana, which is written from right to left.
The state religion in Maldives is Islam, the promotion of which is a key government concern. The public practice of other religions is not permitted. Neither religious freedom nor the prohibition of discrimination against other religions is enshrined in the constitution. Saudi Arabia, which, like Maldives, is a member state of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), provides substantial support to the country’s education sector by donating books, building schools, awarding grants and scholarships and helping fund the Islamic University of Maldives. Saudi Arabia is currently building the largest mosque in Maldives, which will include a library and event halls.
Maldives has a literacy rate of 98 percent. The state education system comprises primary and secondary schools. Besides two public universities, the Maldives National University and the Islamic University of Maldives, the country has three private higher education institutions – Cyryx College, Mandhu College and Villa College.
This text is intended as a source of basic information. It is regularly updated. No liability can be accepted for the accuracy or completeness of its contents.