Maldivian society is a family-oriented one and gives a great deal of respect to the elders. It also promotes a close bondage with immediate and extended family members. A strong emphasis is placed on Islamic principles and women play a key role in Maldivian society. The legal age for marriage is 18, and premarital sex is prohibited. Polygamy is not uncommon, but is discouraged by the government. Traditional values are respected, and inheritance laws are equitable.
The main religion is Islam and non-Muslims are not permitted to vote or hold public office. The national language is Dhivehi, an Indo-European language related to Singhala, and English is taught in many schools.
In the 1980s the government under President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom implemented a comprehensive economic reform programme to boost tourism and agriculture. This included lifting import quotas and opening up markets. In 2008 Gayoom was replaced by former political prisoner Mohamed Nasheed after a series of protests.
Maldives is a presidential republic with a unicameral Majlis elected by universal suffrage for five-year terms. Two representatives from each of the 19 administrative atolls and eight from Male are elected by their atoll councils. A chief justice and lesser judges are appointed by the president. A Ministry of Justice and an attorney general oversee the judiciary system, which draws heavily on traditional Islamic law. A treasury is maintained to ensure fiscal discipline. The largely tourist-based economy is supported by the service industries, transportation, distribution and real estate. Limitations on potable water and available land constrain expansion.