Journalists association calls on government to amend controversial regulations on publishing literature

The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) has called on the government to amend controversial new regulations enacted this week that subjects prose and poetry published in the Maldives to government approval.

The MJA contended in a press release yesterday that the regulations were unconstitutional, noting that Article 27 guarantees “the right to freedom of thought and the freedom to communicate opinions and expression in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam.”

“The Article does not state that free expression could be restricted by law. Only expressions or opinions contrary to a tenet of Islam are restricted,” the MJA observed.

While the MJA urged a proper review of regulations before enforcement or publication in the government gazette, opposition MPs, civil society, and the information commissioner have also criticised the new rules.

The regulations prohibit publishing literary material without seeking authorisation from the national bureau of classification (NBC) – which functions under the youth ministry – and prescribes a fine of between MVR500 (US$32) and MVR5,000 (US$324) for violations.

The regulations define publication of literary material as “as any writing, photograph or drawing that has been made publicly accessible electronically or by way of printing, including publicising or circulating on the internet.”

Publicising poetry was defined as “publishing poetry in writing in any manner, recording it, selling it as a studio album, including it in a film or documentary, broadcasting or telecasting, publicising it on the internet, and or publicising it as a ringtone.”

Following an outcry on social media yesterday, the youth and sports ministry issued a press statement claiming that the rules would not apply to either social media or registered newspapers and online news outlets.

“We note that approving books, poetry and songs published in the Maldives is not a new rule but has been done by this bureau for many years as well as at present,” the statement read.

Information commissioner concerned

Information Commissioner Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur told Minivan News today that he met members of the bureau and senior officials at the youth ministry yesterday and expressed his concerns.

“They accepted [the concerns] and said they would release a press statement and would try to amend the regulations through [the People’s] Majlis,” he said.

Azeez suggested that the regulations had “slipped through their fingers” and ended up in a very restrictive or “difficult” form.

“If the regulations are enforced the way it is now, we can’t publish poetry on websites without using a small tactic,” he said.

Azeez referred to the regulations exempting publications from a political party, civil society group, company or state institution to disseminate information among members or staff.

“So we’re writing on our website that this poem is intended for members of this association. So we are able to publish now, but that is a very difficult way,” he said, referring to ‘Liyuntheringe Gulhun’ (Writers Association) website.

Azeez told local media yesterday that the regulations were “unlawful” and would “put a lock” on Maldivian literature, noting that half of literary output in the country was poetry.

“Having to seek approval for a poem in this day and age is a big joke. Paying 50 rufiyaa to approve a poem is also a joke,” he was quoted as saying by newspaper Haveeru.

The former Progressive Party of Maldives MP called the regulations “unacceptable” and questioned whether it could be enforced.


In a message sent to the media yesterday, former Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid contended that the regulations violate the constitutional rights of freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the freedom to acquire and impart knowledge, information and learning.

Condemning the government’s “decision to impose pre-publication censorship,” the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP said the move was characteristic of a dictatorship.

MDP MP and Spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy meanwhile told Minivan News that the government was “going back towards censorship as it had existed prior to the amended constitution of 2008.”

“Back then even a musician would be required to get approval of the government when they would want to release a musical record. That way the government would suppress freedom of speech and artistic works as well,” he said.

Imthiyaz said he was once summoned by a government official who demanded an explanation of the “implicit meaning” of a song he had written.

“Because as far as he was concerned it had an unacceptable and hidden meaning in it. And he further said he wanted my testimony in writing because he would be sending the case for criminal prosecution. Free speech and reporting and literature will be a bitter pill to swallow for this authoritarian government,” he said.

NGO Revive has also expressed concern with the negative impact on Maldivian literature as a result of the regulations.

The arts and culture NGO called on the Dhivehi language academy to review the regulations and “ensure that efforts to promote Dhivehi language could be carried out.”


MDP condemns restriction of powers of local councils

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has strongly condemned a decision by the government requiring local councils to seek permission directly from the president for conducting transactions involving state-owned land.

In a press release yesterday, the main opposition party said it was “extremely concerned” with moves by the current administration to restrict and limit powers and authority of island, city, and atoll councils.

As conducting transactions involving plots of land under council jurisdiction was one of the main tasks of local councils, the party contended that the government’s intention was to undermine the system of decentralisation introduced by the landmark Decentralisation Act in 2010 through devolution of decision-making powers.

The decision would undermine the authority to generate income and own land granted to local councils by the constitution, the MDP statement added.

Articles 234 and 235 states that local councils shall have the authority to “raise funds” and “own property and incur liabilities”.

In June, the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure removed two parks from the jurisdiction of the MDP-majority Malé City Council, while Dharubaaruge convention centre was reclaimed by the government in May.


MPs debate allowing civil servants to campaign for public office

The government has proposed revisions to the Civil Service Act that would allow civil servants to campaign for public office without resigning from their jobs.

“If these amendments are passed, our civil service employees would be able to campaign for elected posts while remaining in their jobs and have the opportunity contest elections,” explained Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Mohamed Ameeth Ahmed Manik at today’s sitting of the People’s Majlis.

Presenting the legislation (Dhivehi) on behalf of the government, the MP for Raa Madduvari explained that the amendments to the 2007 law were part of a raft of bills proposed by the government to bring outdated laws in line with the new constitution adopted in August 2008.

Opposition MPs have expressed concern that the changes may lead to the politicisation of the civil service, which currently employs just under 25,000 Maldivians – over 7 percent of the population.

Ameeth meanwhile noted that the Supreme Court had ruled Article 53 of the act was unconstitutional.

In September 2011, the Supreme Court backed a ruling against the prevention of civil servants’ participation in political activities.

The courts referred to Article 30(a) of the Constitution, which states, “Every citizen has the right to establish and to participate in the activities of political parties.”

The case was filed at High Court in late 2008 by Mohamed Hanim, who was demoted from his post as director general at the Ministry of Youth and Sports after he spoke at a campaign rally of the then-opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party.

Ameeth noted today, however, that the revisions would establish boundaries for civil servants who wish to be active in politics.

The amendments would prohibit civil servants from using powers to directly or indirectly influence political activities as well as participating in political activity either during official working hours or in a way that casts doubt on impartiality in the performance of duties.

Additionally, civil servants would be prohibited from filling any post in a political party or submitting a form to register a political party.

The restrictions were necessary to ensure that the civil service was free of political bias and undue influence, Ameeth said.

The amendments also stipulate that political appointees, judges, employees at state-owned enterprises, soldiers, and staff at the judiciary and parliament would not be considered civil servants.

Article 77(d) of the Civil Service Act – which prohibits campaigning for public office – would meanwhile be abolished.

Despite Ameeth’s claims, however, the bill does not propose abolishing Article 51 of the act, which stipulates that civil servants must resign six months ahead of contesting an election.

Conceding that the draft legislation could have shortcomings, Ameeth appealed for MPs to offer “constructive” criticism and noted that stakeholders could be consulted at the committee stage to address concerns of civil servants.


In the ensuing debate, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ali Azim alleged that the main purpose of the bill was to “force all civil servants to join PPM.”

He further claimed that employees hired for government-owned corporations were forced to sign PPM membership forms.

MDP MP Abdulla Shahid – former speaker of parliament – contended that the amendments would return civil servants to the “enslavement” of the years before 2007, warning that it could be used to dismiss large numbers of civil servants.

Civil servants could be fired if they refuse to attend “certain rallies” or put up campaign posters, he claimed.

MDP MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik meanwhile called on the government to set a minimum wage of MVR4,500 (US$292) a month for civil servants.

Statistics published by the Civil Service Commission in June showed an estimated 40 percent of civil servants are paid less than MVR4,999 (US$324) per month.

MDP MP Mariya Ahmed Didi noted that current President Abdulla Yameen – who resigned from the government and formed the People’s Alliance party in 2008 – had backed the legislation in the 16th parliament (2003-2008).

The prohibitions in the law were intended to establish a “professional civil service” and ensure “institutional memory,” she said.

Civil servants would have an undue advantage over other candidates since they could misuse their authority, she suggested.

Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan, however, insisted that former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom deserved “full credit” for creating an independent civil service.

The present administration also deserved gratitude and praise from civil servants for ensuring the right to participate in political activity, he added.

MP Ahmed Amir of the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) – coalition partner of the ruling PPM – meanwhile suggested seeking advice from the Supreme Court when the legislation is reviewed by committee.

While the amendments prohibit civil servants from being a signatory to a request to form a political party, Amir noted that the constitution guarantees the right to form political parties to all citizens.

PPM MP Abdulla Rifau said it was “regrettable” that parliament had not amended the law in light of the Supreme Court ruling.

The PPM government would ensure that civil servants receive a pay rise when the economy improves, he added.

Rifau went on to accuse employees in the health sector of “pestering” the government with politically motivated acts of sabotage.


MPs debate legislation on public referendums

Preliminary debate began at today’s sitting of parliament on legislation submitted by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Abdulla Khaleel on legislation governing public referendums.

Presenting the bill (Dhivehi) on behalf of the government, the MP for Faafu Nilandhoo said the proposed law would specify circumstances whereby public referendums could be held as well as procedures to be followed by the Elections Commission (EC) in conducting polls.

Khaleel explained that the legislation stipulates that a public referendum must be held before approving an amendment either to chapter two of the constitution, which outlines fundamental rights and freedoms, or term limits of parliamentarians and the president and vice president.

The constitution authorises both the president and parliament to “hold public referendums on issues of national importance.” Parliament is also authorised to call for public referendums to override a presidential veto on a bill.

The bill defines matters of national importance as issues that parliament believes requires public approval before enactment as law, Khaleel noted.

The bill stipulates that parliament shall pass a resolution calling for a public referendum and provides details on how to conduct the poll, he continued, adding that the public must be informed of the pros and cons of the issue prior to voting.

The first public referendum following the adoption of the new constitution in August 2008 took place in October 2010, which saw small islands overwhelmingly reject a government proposal for administrative consolidation.

The bill on public referendums along with the special economic zones (SEZs) bill was accepted for consideration today and sent to committee for further review.

The SEZ bill was accepted with 46 votes in favour and 16 against.


Government proposes scrapping punishment for evading mandatory national service

The government has proposed scrapping a provision in a 1976 law that allows the president to banish or place under house arrest persons who evade mandatory national service after completing state-funded training or education at public schools.

Presenting the amendment bill (Dhivehi) on behalf of the government at today’s sitting of parliament, Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Abdulla Rifau said the provision contravened article 55 of the constitution, which states, “No person shall be imprisoned on the ground of non-fulfilment of a contractual obligation.”

Rifau also noted that according to article 16(a) of the constitution, fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by chapter two could only be restricted or limited to any extent “only if demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”


In the ensuing debate, PPM MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed argued that abolishing the provision would be a “cosmetic change” as it had become null and void with enactment of the new constitution in August 2008.

Advising a broader debate on national service, Nasheed noted that 80 percent of workers was employed by the government and 20 percent by the private sector when the law was passed in 1976 while the reverse was true at present.

“Our ground reality has changed while this law was on the books,” he said.

In 2013, Nasheed added, 7,623 students completed O’ Levels, out of which 3,123 students (43 percent) was eligible for A’ Levels after passing five subjects.

The number of students who completed A’ Levels in 2013 was meanwhile 1,725, he noted, of which 1,294 students (75 percent) was eligible to pursue higher education or bachelors degree.

While students who completed O’ Levels 40 years ago were forced to serve the government regardless of their grades, Nasheed said in the present day hundreds of people apply for job openings at government offices.

The 1976 law – comprised of 11 articles – requiring 80 percent of school leavers to join the civil service was therefore irrelevant today, he contended, with the exception of sections dealing with employees who refuse to return to work after completing government-sponsored higher education or training.

As the issue was not “clearcut,” Nasheed recommended “serious debate” on formulating new rules appropriate for present circumstances.


Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Abdul Gafoor Moosa meanwhile contended that the entire law should be abolished as it was unconstitutional.

The law was also in conflict with article 36 of the constitution on the right to education, which stipulates that the state should provide free primary and secondary education and ensure accessibility for higher education for all citizens.

While supporting the amendment, MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy, however, accused the government of seeking positive headlines to mislead the public.

Jumhooree Party (JP) MP Gasim Ibrahim recommended expediting the debate on the legislation “to save time” as there was consensus among MPs on approving the amendment. The JP leader noted that several similar amendments to laws in conflict with the constitution were before parliament.

Among other amendments submitted by the government to bring outdated laws in line with the constitution include revisions to the Immigration Act, Child Protection Act, and detention procedures.

In June, Attorney General Mohamed Anil told local media that 51 pieces of legislation will be submitted to the current session of parliament out of a legislative agenda comprised of 207 bills.


Comment: Operation Anbaraa

This article first appeared on Dhivehi Sitee. Republished with permission.

A lot has been written about the music festival on the desert island of Anbaraa attended by local and international DJs, some tourists and 198 partygoers. According to the event organisers, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb and certain officials of the Yameen government allegedly approved the event in an unofficial capacity. Most of what has been said in the Dhivehi media is framed to make it appear that these young people at the music festival were engaging in an orgy of illicit activities on the island, and that the authorities acted rightly by raiding the event and arresting one female minor, 19 women and 59 men present at the festival.

Unfortunately, the susceptible majority of the Maldivian public do not see the political and unconstitutional underpinnings of these arrests, and most often than not, wholeheartedly accept such narratives. This proves beneficial for certain politicians in the Maldives, known for garnering support along ultra-nationalist and Islamist lines, as the Anbaraa incident provides an opportunity to generate just such rhetoric. Their understanding is that the youth are to be blamed for testing the limits of an increasingly conservative society. The awful truth is that people in positions of power indulging in similar behaviour, and much worse, are not subject to the same laws.

The Maldives Police Service claims it raided the island around midnight on Friday night. Detainees have described the operation as a hypocritical, aggressive and excessive display of brute force and psychological warfare. Many of the detainees claim the police used stun guns, grenades, tasers, taser guns, batons, guns and rubber bullets during this operation. Initially flares were shot and the authorities used amplifiers to announce – “you will all be killed if you don’t calm down” while charging at the partygoers. “They shot stun grenades at the centre of the dance floor in front of the main stage”, one of the detainees said. “Rubber bullets were shot in the air and a lot of people were tased with tasers and taser guns,” he continued.

Many detainees said they were all verbally abused and humiliated. Talking of the religious and cultural undertones of this operation, one female detainee said an officer yelled at her, “Are you a European?” A male detainee alleged that two officers grabbed him by the neck and called him an infidel. Another female detainee claimed she was pulled by the hair and ear, and hit on the back. Some of the male partygoers intervened when police resorted to sexualised violence against women – these men are now being detained separately from other detainees, although not in solitary confinement. Some detainees allege they were beaten and showed visible scars. Many detainees note disturbing police actions such as some officers allegedly stealing detainees’ belongings and, in the presence of some detainees, consuming illicit substances found on the island.

After the island came under police control, the detainees were rounded up and brought to the main stage. They were cuffed using plastic clips and kept kneeling down. The island did not have enough water and the Maldives Police Service did not bring any food or water with them for the detainees. When the detainees asked for water it was not provided to all, and some were humiliated for requesting for water. At this point, detainees were allegedly asked to go to sleep. On Saturday morning around 6-7am the police allegedly ordered the catering service to provide food for 198 detainees while the island was under police control. Even at this time, the Maldives’ police did not facilitate rights afforded to those accused or detained under Article 48 of the Constitution. Although police claim that the detainees were informed of their rights, the fact that these men and women were kept incommunicado for about 14 hours proves that the authorities failed to facilitate their inalienable fundamental rights to acquire legal counsel or information regarding the arrest.

Another factor that deviates from standard police practice in such cases is that, according to the detainees, belongings and persons on the island were searched on Saturday afternoon, and none of this was done in the detainees’ presence. Most detainees claim their tents were searched or dismantled while they were handcuffed. And, they claim, not only were their belongings rummaged but articles of clothing and money went missing after the police went through them. Article 161 of the 2011 Drugs Act requires police to split urine samples into two — one sample is to be tested by the Maldives Police Service while the other is to be tested by an institution stipulated by the National Drug Agency. This procedure was not followed, nor were the urine samples collected or processed according to the Urine Specimen Collection, Transportation and Testing for Illicit Drugs Regulation 2012, meaning that many detainees’ urine samples were taken after their remand hearings. Another irregularity is one that contravenes the Judicature Act – detainees were brought to the Criminal Court in Malé even though the alleged offences occurred in Vaavu Atoll. According to the male detainees, only female detainees were given lifejackets while they were being transferred to Dhoonidhoo Custodial Centre from Anbaraa.

During the remand hearings the police claimed that 119 people present at the island were released because they did not find any illicit substances on their person or belongings. This argument does not make sense as the police claimed that the entire island was a crime scene. The argument is further weakened by the fact that some of the detainees currently in custody did not have any illicit substances on their person and only have urine tests as evidence against them. Such contradictions in the claims made by the police suggest that the 119 were released because the police would not have been able to process all detainees within the specified time limit. Law requires all detainees to be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest.

These events are reminiscent of infighting among cabinet ministers during ex-dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s regime, which then spills over into the public sphere. If the Yameen government – even if in an unofficial capacity – gave assurances to the organisers of the music festival that it could go ahead, why has the Home Minister Umar Naseer vocally reacted to this incident as if to say the police were working under his orders? The feud between the current president Abdullah Yameen Abdul Gayoom; half brother of ex-dictator and Umar Naseer; the current Home Minister, has been at the forefront since the onset of the presidential election campaign in early 2013.

Some of the detainees are also of the impression that the government may have raided the event to create a distraction from the arbitration proceedings being held at the Singapore Court of Appeal regarding the cancellation of the GMR agreement during the coup appointed presidency of Dr. Mohamed Waheed, which ended in December 2013. In early 2010, the Indian infrastructure company GMR was contracted to build Ibrahim Nasir International Airport by the Mohamed Nasheed administration, which was toppled by his deputy Dr. Waheed and Gayoom loyalists. If the infrastructure giant GMR wins the arbitration case, the Maldives’ government will be subject to approximately US$1.4 billion in compensation.

All these factors create the public perception that current government is not fully in control of the security forces due to infighting, or that the security forces can be mobilised by the current government to carry out politically motivated attacks that have very little to do with morality, crime prevention, implementing the law, or protecting the youth from illegal drugs. Neither perception creates trust or confidence towards the current regime in power, but both highlight the human rights abuse and inconsistency of the implementation of law in the Maldives.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


MPs-elect to be sworn in on May 28

The 85 MPs-elect for the 18th People’s Majlis will be sworn on Wednesday, May 28.

According to the parliament secretariat, a speaker and deputy speaker will be elected through secret ballot following the swearing-in ceremony.

Article 79(a) of the constitution states, “The People’s Majlis shall continue for five years from the date of its first sitting, and shall then stand dissolved. The first sitting of the newly elected People’s Majlis shall be held immediately after the dissolution of the previous People’s Majlis.”

Article 81 states, “A person elected as a member of the People’s Majlis shall assume membership in the People’s Majlis upon taking and subscribing, before the Chief Justice or his designate, the oath of office of members of the People’s Majlis set out in schedule 1 of this constitution.”

It is also stated in the constitution that the Majlis shall elect a speaker and deputy speaker during its first sitting. Both the Progressive Party of Maldives and Gasim Ibrahim of the Jumhooree Party have recently expressed an interest in the speaker’s position.

“Until such time as a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker is elected the People’s Majlis shall be presided over by the consecutively longest serving member from among those present,” reads the constitution.


No legal grounds to question Speaker’s JSC membership: Majlis secretariat

Read this article in Dhivehi

There are no legal grounds to question whether Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid should remain in the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) whilst seeking re-election, the People’s Majlis secretariat said in a press release today.

The statement follows Majlis’ removal last week of its representative to the judicial oversight body, MP Ahmed Hamza, who is also seeking re-election.

In a letter informing the commission of Hamza’s removal last week, Speaker Shahid said the decision was made in reference to Article 10 of the JSC Act, which stipulates that a commission member will lose his seat if he stands in an election.

Both Shahid and Hamza are contesting in the upcoming parliamentary polls on opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) tickets.

The Majlis statement explained that Article 161(b) of the constitution “clearly shows” that a member appointed to the 10-member commission by virtue of his office (ex officio) would remain a member as long as he holds the post.

The article states that the speaker, the attorney general, and the chair of the civil service commission would remain “a member of the Judicial Service Commission only as long as that office is held.”

“Therefore, as the person in the post of speaker of the People’s Majlis is a member of the commission by virtue of office, there is no room to raise legal questions over whether he will remain a member of the Judicial Service Commission as long as he is in the [speaker’s post],” the press release stated in conclusion.

The statement was issued following media reports casting doubt on Shahid’s membership on the judicial watchdog.

Hamza meanwhile told Minivan News last week that the speaker and Majlis representative should be exempted from Article 10 “as it creates a legal vacuum.”

Prior to the speaker’s decision to remove him from the commission, JSC President and Supreme Court Justice Adam Mohamed Abdulla sent letters to both Hamza and President Abdulla Yameen claiming that the MPs’ position was vacant following his submission of candidacy papers to the Elections Commission.

Hamza responded by contending that Adam Mohamed’s attempt to remove him was intended to reduce the number of members who advocated for judicial reform and to block an investigation into Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed’s sex tape scandal.

Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman – the public’s representative on the JSC  – has also accused Justice Adam Mohamed of stalling the JSC’s investigation into the sex tapes.

Adam Mohamed had refused to schedule a vote on whether to suspend Hameed following his refusal to cooperate with the investigation, Hamza said.

“The JSC cannot be productive as long as Adam Mohamed remains the president,” he said. “I call on the public to pressure the JSC to table the motion to suspend Ali Hameed.”


A short constitutional history of the Maldives

December 22, 2013 marks the 81st anniversary of the proclamation of the Maldives’ first parliament. The following article was prepared by the People’s Majlis secretariat.

The first written Constitution of the Maldives was codified in the early twentieth century, on December 22, 1932 during the thirtieth year of the reign of Sultan Mohamed Shamsudeen Iskandar III.

A thirteen member committee began work on drafting the constitution on March 22, 1931. The acting Governor of Ceylon Bernard H. Bourdill provided technical expertise in its composition. A first draft was completed on June 16, 1931.

With the ratification of the first Constitution of the Maldives on December 22, the first semblance of representative government came into effect. A set of credentials for the King was established – these states the King must be sane man, be of the Sunni Muslim faith and be from the ruling family. A cabinet of ministers and a parliament comprising forty seven members was also established.

The first constitution had 92 articles and a bill of rights guaranteeing equality before the law, freedom from arbitrary arrest and torture, protection of private property, freedom of expression, association and press, and a pension after 25 years of service to the state.

Though a milestone, historical records note that the Maldives’ first Constitution failed within nine months of ratification.

The newly established People’s Majlis passed 40 laws during its short tenure. The new legislation established fines, penalized theft and as- sault, created a state trading company and regulated foreign trade through a Foreign Investments Act and Freighters Act. The new laws angered the public and influential foreign traders in the Maldives. Foreign traders who had a monopoly on imported food started a series of strikes on 26 July 1933, demanding that the new government’s policies be repealed.

The result of the ensuing food insecurity was a public revolt. The founders of the constitution were banished to Colombo and the constitution was amended to 84 articles in June 1934. The Maldives’ first constitution was reduced to 80 articles in 1937 and finally suspended shortly after World War II broke in 1940. A special Majlis at the time stated, “The Constitution and General Provisions have been annulled as they do not fit the Maldives’ situation.”

On 23 April 1942, Sultan Hassan Nooradeen sent a 17 article constitution to the Majlis saying he wanted “a suitable constitution to exist in the Maldives.”

The “small constitution” handed the powers of the state to the monarchy, the foreign minister, and the People’s Majlis. The People’s Majlis was reduced to 6 appointed members and 27 elected members. The second constitution was amended in 1951 and reinstated freedom from arbitrary arrest and banishment and freedom of expression, speech and association. The 34 member People’s Majlis’ term was set to five years.

In 1950, the People’s Majlis voted to abolish the monarchy and institute a republican government in the Maldives. A public referendum endorsed the change and a third constitution on 1 January 1953 established a presidential system of government in the Maldives for the first time.

The new democratic constitution comprising 30 articles established a president to be elected through a direct vote, a judiciary appointed by the president and a bicameral legislature – an 18-member senate and a 47 member House of Representatives.

The new constitution also limited the presidential term to five years, but appointed Al-Ameer Mohamed Ameen Dhoshimeyna Kilegefaanu as the first president of the Maldives. For the first time in Maldivian history, a woman was elected to the parliament.

However, the Maldives’ first republic was short-lived. A revolution on August 21, 1953 abolished the Republic. The country reverted to a Sultanate on January 31, 1954. The change was followed by the ratification of the fourth Constitution of Maldives on March 7, 1954. The fourth constitution declared the Maldives to be an “elected monarchy.”

A unicameral legislature was reinstated with 54 members, of which 6 were to represent the king, 46 to represent the people and two to represent businessmen. Only Maldivian men could vote to elect the People’s Majlis.

Shortly after the Maldives won independence from the British Empire, the fourth constitution was repealed and a Second Republic was established under the rule of President Ibrahim Nasir in 1968. The new constitution declared: “The Maldives is an independent and free state.” According to the fifth constitution, the president of the Maldives was to be elected through a secret vote of the 54 member People’s Majlis.

In 1980, the second president of the second republic Maumoon Abdul Gayoom called for a special constitutional assembly consisting of cabinet ministers and People’s Majlis members to amend the new constitution.

After an 18-year long process, the fifth constitution of the Maldives was amended for the fourth time. Notable amendments included clauses permitting any individual who wished to stand for presidency to submit an application to the People’s Majlis. The Majlis would then choose a candidate who then had to be approved through a public referendum.

In September 2003, unprecedented anti-government riots broke out in Male, sparked by deaths of four prison inmates. The September riots came shortly after the Majlis had unanimously endorsed President Gayoom as the sole candidate for a record sixth term in office.

In October 2003, Gayoom was elected by 90.3 percent of the popular vote. In his inaugural address, Gayoom promised various political reforms. Gayoom’s first steps were to institute a human rights commission in 2003 to investigate abuses and to establish a constitutional assembly in May 2004 to draft a democratic constitution.

The constitution was to guarantee separation of powers and a multi-party democracy.

The constitutional assembly—the People’s Special Majlis— consisted of 29 appointees, along with 42 elected members of the regular Majlis and a further 29 elected members.

The drafting process was slow with rival political parties at loggerheads over several issues including the opposition proposed adoption of a parliamentary system in the Maldives. A public referendum was called in August 2007, and 60 percent of the public backed a presidential system of government.

The sixth constitution of the Maldives, ratified in August 2008, introduced a whole new set of democratic rights, enshrined the separation of powers and introduced mechanisms for accountability and transparency. It paved the way for Maldives’ first multi-party elections in October 2008.