Maldives has rejoined the Commonwealth, bringing the total number of nations in the global organisation to 54, it has been announced.
The change came into effect at one minute past midnight on Saturday February 1 – just over an hour after the UK left the EU.
The republic quit the Commonwealth in 2016 after being threatened with suspension over its human rights record and lack of progress on democratic reform.
President Ibrahim “Ibu” Mohamed Solih, a campaigner for democracy during decades of autocratic rule who was elected in 2018, pledged change and swiftly applied to rejoin.
The island nation has been readmitted after showing evidence of functioning democratic processes and popular support for being part of the family of nations.
— The President's Office (@presidencymv) December 10, 2019
Commonwealth Secretary-General Baroness Scotland, announcing the decision, said: “I warmly congratulate Maldives on its successful application.
“We are delighted to welcome the country and its people back to the Commonwealth.
“The reform process under way in Maldives aligns with the values and principles of the Commonwealth and we encourage the nation to continue on this path.
“Commonwealth members were pleased to note these developments and are happy once again to count Maldives as a member of the family.
“Together we will support Maldives to realise its ambitions.”
Baroness Scotland consulted the other Commonwealth nations, who all had to agree to Maldives’ readmission for it to go ahead.
Famed for its sandy white beaches and luxury tourist resorts, the Indian Ocean archipelago – home to around 500,000 people – is formed of nearly 1,200 islands, most of them uninhabited.
Many resorts in the Maldives need to be reached by seaplane. With unbeatable window seat views like this, the seaplane ride itself is a remarkable adventure. ✈️📷: aburrn via IG#Maldives#VisitMaldives#SunnySideofLifepic.twitter.com/4IW5j3pyUg
— Visit Maldives (@visitmaldives) January 23, 2020
During his election campaign, Mr Solih vowed to promote human rights and, since his surprise win, political prisoners have been freed and exiled opposition figures have returned to the islands.
Within months of taking power, he wrote to the Commonwealth Secretary-General expressing interest in rejoining the Commonwealth, before making an official application.
Mr Solih said: “Today is a happy day for Maldivians as we return to the family of Commonwealth nations.
“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.
“We gratefully acknowledge the support and help of the Commonwealth to the Maldivian democratic movement, and we look forward to the support of fellow member states to ensure the long-term entrenchment of these values in our society.”
The country faced an assessment including two site visits and consultations in accordance with the rules and procedures agreed by the Commonwealth Heads of Government in Kampala in 2007.
In 2016, the Maldives government quit the global body under former president Yameen Abdul Gayoom, saying it had been treated “unjustly and unfairly”.
The country had been threatened with sanctions including suspension if it failed to show progress in key democratic governance issues, including the prompt release of political leaders and misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.
Mr Yameen, who was elected in 2013, was accused of a crackdown on political rivals, courts and the media.
But he was replaced by opposition leader Mr Solih in a shock result in elections in 2018.
The islands, which became a multi-party democracy in 2008 after decades of autocratic rule, had been in political turmoil since its first democratically-elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, announced his resignation in 2012.
It followed a mutiny by the police and weeks of demonstrations against his order to arrest the senior judge. He later said he was forced out in a coup.
All member countries of the Commonwealth must subscribe to the values and principles of the Commonwealth Charter, including a commitment to the development of free and democratic societies and the promotion of peace and prosperity.
Maldives, which last joined the Commonwealth in 1982, will now be part of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kigali, Rwanda, in June.
The Queen is the symbolic head of the Commonwealth, and more than 2.4 billion citizens make up the voluntary association.