Maldives (formerly Maldive Islands), island republic in southern Asia, located in the northern Indian Ocean, southwest of the southern tip of India. Maldives is made up of a chain of 1,190 small coral islands that are grouped into clusters of atolls. It has a total area of 298 sq km (115 sq mi). The capital and largest city of Maldives is Male (population, 2003, 83,000).
|II||LAND AND RESOURCES|
The islands are low-lying and have only small tracts of arable land. Vegetation is dominated by coconut palms and breadfruit trees. The climate is tropical and humid. The average annual temperature is 26.7° C (80° F), with little seasonal variation. The average annual precipitation is 1,500 mm (60 in), most of which falls between May and November. The principal natural resource is the marine life of the surrounding seas.
The population of Maldives (2008 estimate) is 379,174, yielding an average population density of 1,264 persons per sq km (3,273 per sq mi). The most populous atolls are Male, the capital and principal commercial center; Suvadiva; and Tiladummati. The people are ethnically heterogeneous, incorporating Indian, Sinhalese, Arabian, and African elements. Islam is the state religion, and nearly all the people are Sunni Muslims. The language is Divehi, an Indo-European tongue related to Sinhalese.
|IV||ECONOMY AND GOVERNMENT|
The Maldivian economy is dominated by fishing, and the total catch in 2005 was 185,980 metric tons. The most valuable species is tuna; corals and shells are also taken. Coconuts are the principal agricultural product; most food must be imported. Industrial activity is largely limited to fish processing and garment manufacturing. The tourist industry is growing; in 2006 some 602,000 tourists visited Maldives, adding $434 million to the economy. The national currency is the rufiyaa which is made up of 100 laari (12.80 rufiyaa equal U.S.$1; 2006 average).
Maldives is a republic governed under a constitution. The country’s first constitution, promulgated in 1968, was replaced by a new constitution in 1998. Executive power is vested in a president, who serves a five-year term. Nominations for president are submitted to the Majlis, or Citizens' Council, which elects a single candidate. This candidate is then submitted to the people in a referendum in which all adults may vote. To become president, the candidate must win at least a 51-percent majority. The Majlis, a unicameral legislative body, consists of 40 members directly elected from the 20 administrative atolls, 2 members elected from Male, and 8 representatives appointed by the president. The president appoints a cabinet that is responsible to the Majlis.
The islands were settled by Buddhist peoples from southern Asia. Islam was introduced in the 12th century. The Portuguese traded at Male in the latter half of the 15th century. Although the islands were ruled by a local sultan, European influence was established over the area, first by the Dutch in the 17th century and later by the British. In 1887 the Maldives Islands formally became a British protectorate. In 1965 the Maldives achieved independence as a sultanate, and in 1968 the people voted to establish a republic. In 1988, Indian troops were called in to foil a coup attempt by Tamil mercenaries. In 1998 the country adopted a new constitution.