Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Civil service in an emerging democracy: the case of the Maldives

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posted on 2021-11-13, 12:09 authored by Faizal, Mohamed

The establishment of a statutory civil service has been an important element of democratisation in the small-island state of the Maldives, an emerging democracy. “Civil service”, “democratisation”, and “small-island states” are terms discussed widely in the contemporary literature, though not in an integrated manner. By synthesising these terms using relevant literature, in a case study approach with qualitative data, this study primarily aims to analyse the development of a civil service model as part of a process of democratisation in the Maldives. The study also aims to identify how certain features of small-island states could affect both democratisation and the development of a civil service in the Maldives.  The analysis reveals five main findings. Firstly, the development of the civil service model and the negotiation of the civil service Act were part of the democratisation process but were in the hands of political elites and involved no wider public participation. This was consistent with Welzel's model of mass responsive democratisation and Huntington's transplacement model - which proposes that while mass protests and other expressions of opinion are important in triggering democratisation processes, these processes are at some stage moved forward by negotiation or consensus within or between elites.  Secondly, the civil service Act that emerged was a mix of pre-existing codes of practice which had some specifically Maldivian elements but drew on other regional administrative codes, together with borrowings based on research into the current civil service laws of other countries. The result was a law which was founded on some principles commonly described as “Weberian” but adapted to Maldivian circumstances.  Thirdly, the choices that the lawmakers made regarding the civil service model were motivated by a number of different considerations but the dominant agenda was securing a politically neutral civil service largely insulated from the direct patronage of the political executive. This was a result of a wider elite negotiation on the future extent of executive power. Thus, the issue in drafting that turned out to be most important was setting the boundary between the political arm and administrative arm of the executive; many detailed provisions that were not relevant to the dominant agenda were carried over from previous Maldivian codes or drawn from the codes of other jurisdictions, in either case with little debate.  Fourthly, the transition to democracy is not complete in the Maldives. The process is still relatively unstable and fragile. In particular, although the civil service is now more firmly founded in law and there is less scope for arbitrary political intervention, there is a continuing contest between the political arm and the administrative arm of the executive over the boundaries between them. This ongoing contest continues to be critical for the prospects of stable democratisation.  Lastly, islandness and smallness did not have a major direct bearing on the process of democratisation in the Maldives, although islandness was to some extent a factor in the design of the constitutional architecture. Furthermore, smallness and social cohesiveness is presently not enough to counter the growing polarisation of society which may constitute a threat to the stability of this fragile emerging democracy. The Maldives being a small-island state did not have a significant impact on the choice of the civil service model. Nonetheless, the social closeness of the small Maldivian society may inhibit the separation of public and private life that is important for institutionalising a professional civil service.  These findings and others in this research add to the body of exemplary knowledge regarding the relationship between the main theoretical concepts of civil service, democratisation, and small-island states, and demonstrate that the framework developed from this scholarship is useful for other case studies embodying similar concepts.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Public Policy

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Government


Laking, Rob; Hassall, Graham