After decades of authoritarian rule, the Maldives will have a multiparty system beginning Sunday.

Until now, political parties were banned in the Maldives, a Muslim nation made up of more than 1,100 coral islands off southern India.

Thursday, lawmakers voted unanimously for a multiparty system that will allow opposition parties to function for the first time in this Indian Ocean archipelago.

Soon after the vote, the government released four opposition politicians who were detained earlier in the day on allegations of plotting to disrupt the parliamentary debate.

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has ruled the Maldives with an iron fist since 1978. Last year, he promised political reforms following international pressure spurred by allegations of torture of politicians who were jailed after a series of anti-government riots in 2003.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and AP.