Although the Maldives did not have a written Constitution until 22 December 1932, it does not in anyway indicate that the country did not have a system of administration accepted by the people. On the contrary, it is quite interesting to note that according to authentic historical records, a form of democracy did exist in the country from the very early days. There were systems of taxation, national defense, discharge of public duties and administration of justice. These were clearly defined by usage of customs though not by written documents.
The post of Sultan was never hereditary; it was rare when a son succeeded his father as Sultan purely as a matter of natural succession.
The rule of Sultan has been from the olden days exercising his administrative powers more or less in a capacity similar to that of a constitutional monarch, adhering to and following the examples set by his predecessors who had always abided by a wide range of customs and conventions that had been looked upon as laws in the administrative structure. When the necessity arose under new circumstances, the Sultans deviated from the normal procedures with the advice and consent of the councils, thereby creating new precedents which in due course became new conventions.
Furthermore, though the Sultan had the demure supreme power, he was never a despotic or an autocratic ruler. All his actions were constantly reviewed by the councils of advisors and chiefs who voiced the views of the people at the meetings of the councils where the Sultan himself was only a member. History had recorded several instances of Sultans being deposed on the decisions taken by the councils on such occasions when the Sultan had contravened the existing customs and conventions.
The Sultan who, as shown above, functioned as constitutional monarch, was assisted in his administrative duties by the following three important councils: (a) "Raskamuge Is Majlis" (b) "Raskamuge Dhevana Majlis", and (c) "Raskamuge Thinvana Majlis".
The above three constitutional councils had existed right through the known recorded history of the country, subject to variations in the number of members in each council. But essentially, the functions of each council remained unchanged.
The "Raskamuge Is Majlis" - the First Council of the Realm-which consisted of the King and his most trusted and closest advisors known as "Kilege", or Noble Chiefs, was summoned when decisions on matters of great importance and urgency were to be taken. When the meetings of this council were held, the Sultan himself attended as a member of the Majlis. He was titled the "Raskilege" or Highest of the Chiefs, which indicated that he was the firs among equals. The First Council of the Realm consisted of the Sultan - the Highest Chief, the Noble Chiefs and the Chief Justice, known as "Fandiyaaru".
Among the Noble chiefs include some ladies as well. These lady Noble Chiefs were mother or mother-in-law of the Sultan, the Queen, and a sister or a sister-in-law of the Sultan. One of them or all of them, as the case may be, were always included in the Council.
The following is the full list of the "Kilege" or Noble Chiefs who were members of the First Council of the Realm according to their official rank.
The male Noble Chiefs
The lady Noble Chiefs
The "Raskamuge Dhevana Majlis" - the Second Council of the Realm - consisted of the Noble Chiefs, the Chief Justice, "Avashuverin", the nobles representing the four wards of Male', "Henveyru", "Galolhu", "Machchangolhi" and "Maafannu" and some officials titled "Furadhaana". This council met more often than the First Council of the Realm and discussed matters relating to the affairs of the Government.
The nobles titled "Furadhaana" included in this council, were a group of officials appointed by the Sultan. They we re nine in number and two group in priority.
There were four in the first group, namely "Handheyrgiri", (the Officer in charge of Home and Provincial Affairs), "Dhoshimeyna", (Officer in Charge of Defence), "Hakuraa", (Officer in Charge of Public Works), and 'Welaana", (Officer in Charge of Foreign Affairs which also include the navy and trade).
The second group had five and in order of priority they were as follows: "Bodu Bandeyri" (Officer in Charge of Finance and Revenues), "Faamudheyri", (Officer in Charge of Health), "Maafaiy", (Private Secretary to the Sultan), "Dhaharadha", (Officer in Charge of the War Office) and Ranahamaanthi, (Second-in-Command of the Navy).
Of these "Furadhaana", the one who seemed to have held the most important position was the "Hadheygiri". He was in charge of the administration of the provinces, which meant the far scattered Atolls. The "Hadheygin"' in turn had his subordinates in those provinces. These subordinates were originally 13 in number but 15 names of titles appear in the records giving the impression that either the number varied, or that some titles were duplicated, or that some provinces were divided among two such officers.
These provincial chiefs were known as "Kangathi Beykalun" who were In charge of the administration in the provinces or Atolls and were responsible directly to the "Handheygiri", who represented the authority of the central government. A noteworthy feature in this system was that the "Kangathi Beykalun" were not chosen by the Sultan himself but were nominated by the people in their respective provinces and those nominations were submitted to the Sultan who a~ pointed and conferred titles on them. This again is another instance that shows that the peoples' views were duly respected by the Sultan and that they had a say in the administration of the country.
The duties of the "Kangathi Beykalun" were to maintain law and order and manage the affairs of the provinces and to keep the "Handheygiri" constantly informed on developments in their regions. They had the right to advise the Sultan about the administration of the provinces, and they usually gather in Male', and meet with the Sultan arid other responsible officers, towards the end of the south-west monsoon, and they discuss the general administration In the Atolls, revenues and taxation during the past year and plan specific policies for the coming year. A particular point discussed at this meeting with Sultan was the defence strategy, because with the onset of the north-east monsoons, the Maldives was invariably exposed to armed incursions from South India which were almost a recurrent annual feature that coincided with the north-east monsoon during that period of history. Another interesting aspect of this administrative set-up in the provinces or Atolls was that these "Kangathi Beykalun" were unpaid state officers.
The "Raskamuge Thinvana Majlis" - the Third Council of the Realm - consisted of the members of the first and second councils together with "Edhuru Beykalun" who included the four "Badi Koshi", or Gunners, and the five "KuIhi Koshi", or the exponents of martial arts. This system continued until, on 19 March 1931(29 Shawwaal 1349 AH), with the advice of "Bodun" (the nobles), a special committee of 12 members selected by the Sultan was granted the responsibility of drafting the first constitution of The Maldives In order to formulate this Constitution, the Sultan and the nobles obtained the advice of the then protecting power Britain.
The first written Constitution thus formulated by the committee was proclaimed by Sultan Muhammad Shamsuddeen III, on 22 December 1932 (23 Shau'baan 1351 AH). This first written Constitution of the country was largely based on the customs, conventions and other traditional administrative practices that had been followed for many centuries.
In order to meet the growing public demands, the constitution was revised in about one and half years after the proclamation of the first written constitution. With the necessary amendments a second constitution consisting 84 articles was a~ proved by the Citizens' Special Majlis and was proclaimed by Sultan Muhammad Shamsuddeen on 05 July 1934(22 Rabecul Awwal 1353).
Subsequent changes were again brought in and during the rule of Sultan Hassan Nooraddeen the second constitution was amended by the Citizens' Special Majlis on 16 July 1936 (26 Rabecul Aakhira 1355). After amending all of the 84 articles in the second constitution, the third constitution comprising 80 articles, was formulated and proclaimed on 28 January 1937 (14 Dh'ul Qaidha 1355).
It is also to be noted that only after seven years from the proclamation of the first written constitution it was found that the than current situation did not favour a constitutional rule, so it was abolished on 30 January 1940(20 Dh'ul Hijja 1358).
But after much consideration, within 2 years, a written constitution was again formulated. This fourth constitution which consisted 17 articles was proclaimed on 23 April 1942 (6 Rabecul Aaknira 1361) By Sultan Hassan Nooraddeen II and the then Prime Minister Al Ameer Muhammad Fareed.
Further amendments and revisions gave way for the formation of a fifth constitution which was proclaimed on 31 May 1951 (24 Shaubaan 1370). The fifth constitution containing 70 articles was abolished with the declaration of the first Republic and along with the proclamation of the sixth constitution which favoured for a republican rule. This sixth constitution containing 30 articles was proclaimed on I January 1953 by the first president of The Maldives Muhammad Ameen.
However with the termination of the short lived Republic on 31 January 1954 (25 Jumaadhul Aaknira 1373) the sixth constitution was also abolished and a seventh constitution came into being with the restoration of the sultanate rule again. The seventh constitution consisting 84 articles was proclaimed on 7 March 1954 (1 Rajab 1373) by the Sultan Muhammad Fareed 1. It was during the reign of Sultan Muhammad Fareed I, that with two major amendments the eight and the ninth constitution was proclaimed. The eighth constitution containing 77 articles was proclaimed on 14 June 1964(23 Muharram 1384). After amending the eight constitution by the Citizens' Special Majlis the ninth constitution containing 74 articles was formulated and it was proclaimed on 10 June 1967.
The ninth constitution and the Sultanate rule ceased to exist with the declaration of the second Republic, following a public referendum held on I April 1968. The tenth constitution, favouring a Republican rule was formulated and proclaimed with the declaration of the second Republic on 11 November 1968. This tenth constitution containing 91 articles was proclaimed by President Ibrahim Nasir.
Up to now 3 major amendments, found necessary with the consent of the Citizens' Majlis had been incorporated to the 1968 constitution. The first amendment was brought by the Citizens' Special Majlis on 23 April .1970 and the second amendment and the third amendment on 2 February 1972 and 15 April 1975 respectively.
What is remarkable in the process of constitutional evolution in the country is that the present Constitution, containing 86 articles is not an entirely new one but the old one modified and amended to suit new requirements.
With President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom assuming office in 1978, the country began undergoing a series of political changes. Thus the need to have a more elaborate constitution, one that is in par with the new socio political developments that were taking place, became a necessity. The current consideration of a new Constitution which will have 16 chapters and comprising 147 articles and 4 annexes makes it the 14th major amendment of the Constitution of the country since a written one came into force in 1932. The law to amend the present constitution was promulgated by the Citizens' Majlis (Parliament) on January 1st 1979, and the Special Majlis to amend the constitution met for the first time on 29th November 1980 (22 Muh'arram 1401).
From the foregoing it can be concluded that the history of the Constitutional evolution of the country up to the present day can be summarised into the following three periods.
(a) The period that covers the ancient and medieval eras when administration was carried out according to an unwritten Constitution as dictated by customs and conventions.
(b) The period in which the existing customs and conventions were written down and given the force of law.
(c) The period in which amendments to the written constitution began to be brought about as an when the necessity arose. From the fore-going it can be concluded that the form of Government in the Maldives is more or less a unique Maldivian system which has few borrowings from Western constitutions.
The most notable feature in the constitutional evolution in The Maldives is that it has always responded to the political, social, economic and cultural uniqueness covering inter-relations between the islands and Atolls, central administrative control, social stratification, an independent system of law and order, and has been conditioned to a great degree by the religion of Islam, and as a corollary to all this by a homogeneous culture.
History of the Maldives