Maldives rejoins the Commonwealth - an hour after Brexit

1 February 2020, 12:01 | Updated: 2 February 2020, 08:02

Maldives has rejoined the Commonwealth, bringing the total number of nations in the global organisation to 54.

The change happened at 12:01am on Saturday 1 February - just over an hour after the UK left the European Union.

Famed for its sandy white beaches and luxury tourist resorts, the Indian Ocean archipelago quit the Commonwealth in 2016. At the time, it had been threatened with suspension over its human rights record and lack of progress on democratic reform.

But a new president elected in 2018, Ibrahim "Ibu" Mohamed Solih, got a surprise win on the back of pledges to change.

Since then political prisoners have been freed and exiled opposition figures have been allowed to return home.

The republic had to show evidence of functioning democratic processes and popular support for being part of the group of nations to be let back in, along with unanimous agreement by all other Commonwealth nations.

Home to around 500,000 people, Maldives is formed of nearly 1,200 islands - most of them uninhabited.

It was riven with autocratic rule for decades before coming a multi-party democracy in 2008.

The Queen is the symbolic head of the Commonwealth, and more than 2.4 billion citizens make up the voluntary association.

Being a member again means Maldives gets the support of 80 organisations that promote development, democracy and peace.

It will also get access to experts offering impartial advice and solutions to national problems, as well as systems, software and research for managing resources.

President Mohamed Solih said it was a "happy day" for Maldivians and that "as a young democracy, the Commonwealth's foundational values of the promotion of democracy, human rights, good governance, multilateralism and world peace remain relevant to us more than ever".