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After many years of one-party rule, the Maldives held free and fair elections in 2008 and elected a young and outward-looking government under the leadership of former political prisoner Mohamed Nasheed. The timing of the political transition coincided with the beginnings of the global debt crisis, and this has presented the new democracy with considerable economic challenges and consequent political difficulties.
Parliamentary elections held in May 2009 resulted in an opposition-dominated parliament (Majlis) that has seriously hampered President Nasheed’s ambitious economic reform and development plans.
The bilateral relationship between New Zealand and the Maldives is relatively slight, but the fact that several senior Maldivian MPs and officials have been educated in New Zealand has given it a good degree of warmth.
New Zealand and the Maldives share an interest in small island states issues - in New Zealand’s case largely because of its South Pacific connections. Climate change - particularly rising sea levels - is an issue of vital concern to the low-lying Maldives.
The Commonwealth link between New Zealand and the Maldives is an important one, as it helps maintains the Maldives links with other small island states in the Caribbean and South Pacific.
Diplomatic relations between New Zealand and the Maldives were announced on 10 October 1974. The New Zealand High Commissioner in Singapore is accredited to the Maldives. The Maldives does not have any diplomatic representation in New Zealand.
On 1 May 2001 New Zealand appointed an Honorary Consul in the Maldives, Ahmed Saleem, a Maldivian architect/businessman who graduated from Auckland University in 1974. Mr Saleem continues to be the Honorary Consul.
The most recent senior visit from New Zealand to the Maldives was by Trade and Climate Change Minister Tim Groser, who attended climate change talks in Male in July 2010. He also had bilateral talks with President Nasheed.
The most recent visit from the Maldives was by an Economic Development Ministry officials’ group, which came to Wellington to study the New Zealand economic reform experience in November 2010.
New Zealand and the Maldives have worked closely together at the United Nations on issues related to climate change and its relationship with human rights. The Maldives is particularly low-lying and faces climate change problems similar to those confronting small islands states in the Pacific.
The Maldives economy was seriously affected by the global debt crisis. Tourism income in particular was heavily hit. The Maldives Government is currently working with the World Bank and other donors to overcome its economic difficulties. It has put in place radical restructuring plans, some components of which (particularly a privatisation and decentralisation programme) have met with steadfast parliamentary opposition. In July 2010 the entire 13 member Cabinet resigned in protest at this parliamentary blocking. The crisis was resolved, but the political situation remains difficult.
New Zealand has a limited trade relationship with the Maldives. New Zealand exports to the Maldives for the year to June 2010 totalled some NZ $12.5 million. Building supplies were the major contributor. Imports in the same year were officially only $15,000, but the true value of New Zealand-origin goods exported to the Maldives may be more substantial. Many products are imported into the Maldives from suppliers in Singapore, and to a lesser extent Sri Lanka, and are not captured in New Zealand’s export statistics.
Under the Colombo Plan, which started in 1951, students from the Maldives obtained tertiary and professional qualifications from New Zealand universities. Some of these students are now senior members of the Maldives Government.
The current development assistance relationship with New Zealand is small and focused on education. Candidates from the Maldives are eligible for New Zealand postgraduate Commonwealth Scholarships, which are available to students from all Commonwealth developing countries. There are 15 places available in total each year. As at July 2010 there were 16 students from the Maldives studying in New Zealand under aid programme-funded scholarships.
The New Zealand High Commission in Singapore administers a Head of Mission Fund that is used to fund small development projects in the Maldives. Grants from the fund are made to non-Government and community-based groups for projects such as the construction of pre-schools, installation of water tanks, purchase of library books, health awareness initiatives and language training.
Official Name: Republic of Maldives
Land Area: 300 sq km over 1191 islands
Population: 395,000 (2010 est)
Capital City: Malé
Religion: Sunni Muslim
Language: Maldivian Dhivehi (dialect of Sinhala, a script derived from Arabic). English spoken by most government officials.
Currency: Maldivian Rufiyaa (Rf)
Exchange Rate: US$1 = Rf 12.8 (pegged since 2001)
Political system: Republic with a parliamentary-styled government, but as a result of the referendum held in August 2007, this changed to a presidential system.
National legislature: Comprises the President and a unicameral People’s Council or Majlis (77 seats)
Last election: 28 October 2008 (presidential). Majlis (parliamentary) elections in May 2009
Next election due: Presidential 2013, parliamentary 2014
Head of State: President Mohamed Nasheed (elected 2008)
Key Ministers: Defence - Ameen Faisal,Finance & Treasury - Ali Hashim, Home Affairs - Gasim Ibrahim, Foreign Affairs - Dr Ahmed Shaheed, Housing, Transport and Environment - Mohamed Aslam.
Main political parties: Dhivehi Raiyyethunge Party, Maldivian Democratic Party, Adhaalath (Justice) Party, Islamic Democratic Party, Maldivian Social Democratic Party, Maldivian National Congress
GDP: US $1.307 billion (2009 est)
GDP per capita (ppp): US $4200 (2009 est)
Real GDP growth: -3.1% (2009 est)
Exports: US $88 million (2009 est, goods only - but 60% of foreign exchange receipts come from tourism)
Major markets: France, Thailand, Italy, UK (2009)
Imports: US $782 million (2009 est)
Major suppliers: Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia India and Thailand (2009)
Main exports: Tourism, fish and fish products (2009)
Main imports: Petroleum products, ships, food, clothing (2009)
Inflation: 7.3% (consumer prices, 2009 est)
NZ Exports (FOB): NZ $12.5 million (June 2010)
NZ Imports (CIF): NZ $15,000 (June 2010)
New Zealand is represented in the Maldives through the New Zealand High Commission in Singapore:
The Safetravel website provides a travel advisory for travellers to the Maldives [external link].