Formerly a British colony ruled by a traditional Islamic sultanate, the Maldives gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1965. In a 1968 national referendum, the traditional Maldivian sultanate was replaced with a republican form of government. Sovereign and executive power is held by the president. The Constitution of 1968 created a unicameral 48-member assembly, known as the Majlis, whose members serve five-year terms. Eight members are appointed by the president, and 40 are popularly elected. This assembly in turn designates the presidential candidate; if the candidate receives a majority of the popular vote in a national referendum, he becomes president for a five-year term. The president holds the highest political and religious authority. He is charged with appointing judges who will interpret Muslim beliefs in the adjudication of civil and criminal cases; thus, Maldivian courts are not independent of the executive branch. Along with an 11-member Cabinet and a 15-member Special Consultative Council (of economic advisors), the president also appoints 20 atoll (island group) chiefs to handle local political affairs. Political parties do not exist. Rather, because of the scarcity of trained manpower and the existence of traditional familial networks, Maldivian politics depends upon competition among a close-knit elite. Universal adult suffrage is guaranteed by the Constitution. Women were granted the right to vote in 1952.