Malta’s Prime Minister Robert Abela on Sunday promised “more humility” as his Labor Party claimed it was a landslide victory in elections to secure a third term in government despite a legacy of corruption and the lowest turnout in decades. was leading.
Official results are not expected until Monday morning, but Labor officials told reporters they were headed for a major victory based on preliminary results, while the opposition Nationalist Party conceded defeat.
“The people decided that Malta should continue to move forward,” Abela told reporters at the counting center in the city of Naxar, as nearby supporters chanted her name.
“It is a result that brings a great responsibility, and which we must translate into more humility,” he said, vowing to work “with a sense of national unity … in the interest of all”.
Abela had campaigned to combat the coronavirus pandemic and Labor’s economic record during her nine years in power. In contrast, the opposition Nationalist Party has been hampered by internal divisions.
But turnout was lower than expected after a campaign limited by coronavirus restrictions fueled by concerns about war in Ukraine and perhaps some resignation among voters after opinion polls indicated a Labor landslide.
The Electoral Commission estimated a turnout of 85.5%, the lowest in the Maltese general election since 1955 – and the first time it has dropped below 90% since 1966.
However Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fairney told AFP the turnout was “exceeding European standards”.
Labor is still tainted by high-level corruption uncovered by journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed by a car bomb near her home in October 2017 that shocked the world.
Seven people have either been charged with or admitted to being involved in his murder, but a public inquiry last year said the state was trying to create a “culture of impunity” under then-prime minister Joseph Muscat. in which his enemies felt that they could silence him.
Muscat had already stepped down in January 2020 following public protests over his alleged efforts to shield his colleagues from an investigation into his death. Abella took his place after the Labor Party vote.
The 44-year-old lawyer has since gone on to strengthen good governance and freedom of the press, including curtailing the prime minister’s powers over judges and the police.
Caruana Galizia’s family say he is not far away.
The Nationalist Party had pressed the issue of corruption on the campaign trail, uncovering last year’s gray-listing of Malta by the FATF, an international money-laundering watchdog.
Despite few natural resources, Malta built a thriving economy based largely on tourism, financial services and online gaming, but it has long been battling allegations that it serves as a quasi-tax haven. .
It has also been criticized by the European Union and anti-corruption campaigners for its “Golden Passport” scheme, which grants citizenship to wealthy investors.
Under political pressure after Russia invaded Ukraine, Abela suspended plans for the Russians and Belarusians.
Politics is extremely important in Malta, a Catholic-majority country of about 516,000 people living in 316 square kilometers (122 sq mi) off the coast of Sicily.
Labor agents who were counting down the election had previously chuckled at the news of the victory, jumping with joy and banging the Perspex screen through which they were monitoring officials checking ballots.
As the day progressed, cars decorated with red and white Labour flags sounded horns, while supporters danced and cheered outside party headquarters.
Nationalist Party leader Bernard Grech later visited the counting center to thank his own supporters, where he vowed to “continue to work for those who are not happy with the current government.”
In addition to the economy, the environment was a big issue on which country is the smallest and most densely populated in the European Union.
Huge development projects line Malta’s coastline, green spaces are squeezed, concrete trucks cause gridlock on the roads and the sound of construction fills the air.
There is a Green party, the ADPD, but no third party held a single seat in Malta’s parliament before independence from Britain in 1964.