A sultanate since the 12th century, the Maldives became a British protectorate in 1887. The islands became a republic in 1968, three years after independence. President Maumoon Abdul GAYOOM dominated Maldives' political scene for 30 years, elected to six successive terms by single-party referendums. Following political demonstrations in the capital Male in August 2003, GAYOOM and his government pledged to embark upon a process of liberalization and democratic reforms, including a more representative political system and expanded political freedoms. Political parties were legalized in 2005.
In June 2008, a constituent assembly - termed the "Special Majlis" - finalized a new constitution ratified by GAYOOM in August 2008. The first-ever presidential elections under a multi-candidate, multi-party system were held in October 2008. GAYOOM was defeated in a runoff poll by Mohamed NASHEED, a political activist who had been jailed several years earlier by the GAYOOM regime. In early February 2012, after several weeks of street protests in response to his ordering the arrest of a top judge, NASHEED purportedly resigned the presidency and handed over power toto Vice President Mohammed WAHEED Hassan Maniku. A government-appointed Commission of National Inquiry concluded there was no evidence of a coup, but recommended strengthening the country's democratic institutions to avert similar events in the future. NASHEED contends that police and military personnel forced him to resign. NASHEED, WAHEED, and Abdulla YAMEEN Abdul Gayoom ran in the 2013 elections with YAMEEN ultimately winning the presidency after three rounds of voting. As president, YAMEEN has sought to weaken democratic institutions, curtail civil liberties, jail his political opponents, restrict the press, and exert control over the judiciary to strengthen his hold on power and limit dissent. In February 2018, he declared successive states of emergency in response to a supreme court order to release political prisoners and allow members of parliament who switch parties to retain their seats. Maldivian officials have played a prominent role in international climate change discussions (due to the islands' vulnerability to rising sea-level), though in practice, the YAMEEN government has destroyed mangroves, coral beds, and other natural habitats to make way for development projects.