Maldives country brief


The Republic of Maldives is an archipelago of 1,192 coral islands located 400km south-west of India in the Indian Ocean. The islands form 26 natural atolls that are grouped into 19 administrative units. The Republic of Maldives has a population of approximately 394,000 living on 200 of these islands, although this figure includes a sizeable number of expatriate workers. In 2013 Maldives' GDP was US$2.3 billion. Islam is the state religion. As a widespread island chain Maldives has an Exclusive Economic Zone just over 900,000 square kilometres in size. Maldives has a relatively young population with almost 41 percent under 15 years of age and around 3 percent over 65 years of age.

Political overview

Maldives was an independent Islamic sultanate from 1153 until first Dutch and then British protectorates were established in the 17th and 18th centuries respectively. It became a republic in 1968, three years after independence, but remains a member of the Commonwealth. Ibrahim Nasir, a former Prime Minister during the late sultanate period, became President for the first ten years after independence. President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ruled for 30 years from 1978, elected to six successive terms by single-party referendums. In August 2004, the President and his government pledged to embark upon democratic reforms including a more representative political system and expanded political freedoms.

Political parties were legalised in 2005. In 2006, the Government launched its Roadmap for Reform, which included bills on freedom of assembly, the judiciary, police powers and the establishment of the Human Rights Commission. A Special Majlis (Constitutional Assembly) was formed in 2004 and charged with drafting a modern, liberal constitution. In 2008, the Special Majlis finalised the constitution, which was ratified by then President Gayoom in August 2008. The first-ever presidential elections under a multi-candidate, multi-party system were held in October 2008. Gayoom was defeated by the newly formed Maldivian Democratic Party-Itthihaad alliance with Mohamed Nasheed as the Presidential candidate and Mohamed Waheed as the Vice-Presidential candidate. The first multi-party parliamentary elections were held in May 2009. In the People's Majlis (Parliament) there are 77 seats: members are elected by direct vote to serve five-year terms.

President Mohamed Nasheed resigned in 2012 under disputed circumstances and Vice-President Waheed was sworn in as President. Nasheed later claimed he was forced to resign. Following the transfer of power, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) sent a mission to investigate the circumstances surrounding the transfer of Presidency. CMAG expressed concern about the risks to Maldives' young democracy and called on all sides to work together peacefully to resolve political problems. The Commonwealth Secretary-General's Special Envoy to the Maldives, Sir Donald McKinnon, facilitated the formation of a Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) to look into the events surrounding the transfer of power. The CoNI report, released in August 2012, found that the change of President was legal and constitutional. It called for investigations into allegations of police brutality and encouraged support for democratic structures in Maldives. 

The 2013 Presidential election in the Maldives was won by Abdulla Yameen (Progressive Party of the Maldives). The following legislative election (People’s Majlis) was held on 22 March 2014 and President Yameen’s Progressive Coalition won a resounding victory over former President Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party.  A Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) monitored both elections. Whilst the COG reported that the legislative election was ‘peaceful and credible’, they noted concerns including the Supreme Court’s dismissal of the chair and vice chair of the Electoral Commission leading up to the election. The COG report (March 2014) on the outcome of the election which made 10 recommendations for consolidating democracy in the Maldives.


Maldives graduated from the UN's Least Developed Country (LDC) designation to Middle Income Country status in 2011, and Upper Middle Income Status in 2013. Tourism and commercial fisheries form the basis of Maldives' economy.

Tourism is Maldives' largest economic activity and accounts for 30 per cent of GDP and more than 60 per cent of foreign exchange receipts. Tourism has largely recovered following the 2004 tsunami, which led to a protracted period of negative economic growth. Over 90 per cent of government tax revenue comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes. Fishing is the second-largest sector, contributing about 15 per cent of annual GDP. Agriculture and manufacturing play a lesser role in the economy, constrained by the limited availability of cultivable land and the shortage of domestic labour. Most staple foods must be imported.

Annual GDP growth in Maldives has averaged 5.4 per cent since 2005, and was $2.3 billion in 2013 , due to improved tourist arrival numbers in the post global recession environment. Diversifying the economy beyond tourism and fishing, reforming public finance and increasing employment opportunities remain major economic challenges for the government.

Maldives is the lowest-lying country in the world, with its highest natural ground height of only 2.4 metres and 80 per cent of the landmass at 1 metre or less above sea level. Maldives is very concerned about the threat posed by climate change and has been active internationally to bring attention to the issue.

Bilateral relations

Australia and the Maldives have a constructive and productive relationship, with links in trade, security and transnational crime, education, development cooperation and through the Commonwealth. Bilateral relations were established in 1974.

Engagement in recent years has included a focus on democracy building, climate change and other environmental issues. Australia and Maldives cooperate well in multilateral and regional forums on climate change issues, and other issues affecting small-island states in the Indo-Pacific region.

Australia–Maldives bilateral trade has remained steady over the past decade. Total bilateral trade was $34 million in 2013-14, of which $33 million was Australian exports. The bulk of bilateral trade is Australian food and beverage exports to the Maldivian tourism industry. Australia was Maldives' 9th largest source of imports in 2013. Australia is a significant supplier of aircraft, parts and fresh produce for the Maldives' tourist industry.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority is currently working with the Maldives, Mauritius and Sri Lanka to improve maritime search capabilities. The $2.5 million program will focus on training, development of operational procedures, and implementation of better systems to enable countries to communicate and coordinate more effectively with each other on search and rescue operations.

Development assistance

Australia will provide an estimated $7 million in Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to Maldives in 2014-15. Australia's development co-operation program to Maldives targets improving human development.

In 2014-15 we will:

  • provide 33 Australia Awards Scholarships for study at Australian universities, focused on economics, education and environmental science
  • help improve the quality of education at primary and secondary levels through the Maldives Education Sector Volunteers Program in cooperation with the Maldives Ministry of Education.

Australia also supports effective governance through the UNDP-led Integrated Governance Program. The program aims to strengthen the transparency and accountability of public institutions, promote equitable access to justice and respect for human rights, and strengthen the voice of civil society organisations.

More information on development assistance to Maldives.

Last Updated: 24 January 2014