Ballot count, 27 March 2022, Naxxar, Malta (AFP/Matthew MIRABELLI)
The outgoing Prime Minister of Malta, the Labor Party candidate, claimed victory in the legislative elections on Sunday after a vote held in the shadow of the war in Ukraine and marked by a record abstention in the history of the small Mediterranean.
Polls showed that Robert Abela told TVM that his party won the majority of votes, but did not provide a numerical result.
“We are very pleased to have a Labor government back in Malta within the next five years,” Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fern said.
Michael Piccinino, general secretary of the nationalist (opposition) party, indicated that the leader of the formation, Bernard Gretsch, spoke to Mr. Abela to admit defeat.
While turnout is typically in excess of 90%, it should be around 85%, according to the Electoral Commission, a historic low since Malta’s independence in 1964, a former British colony that joined the European Union in 2004.
In the town of Naxxar, where ballots are being counted – out of 355,000 registered voters – Labor cheered as the preliminary results were announced, AFP reporters say.
This is the first electoral mandate for Mr. Abela, who was appointed head of government after the resignation in early 2020 of Joseph Muscat, whose mandate was marred by allegations of corruption. He was also accused of trying to influence the investigation into the 2017 murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who worked on corruption issues.
It is also the first nationwide election where Maltese between the ages of 16 and 18 can vote.
Final results are not expected until Sunday evening or Monday morning, but the two parties that have been fighting for power for decades, Labor and Nationalists, rely on a reliable preliminary tally.
Labor, in power for nine years, highlighted its ability to handle the health crisis and strong economic performance, which balance the party’s image linked to corruption allegations made by Daphne Caruana Galizia, whose October 2017 assassination shocked the country and the world. .
Mr. Abela has taken steps to strengthen the rule of law and freedom of the press, which remain insufficient for anti-corruption activists and Caruana Galizia’s family.
– Savings first –
Malta, located near Sicily, is the smallest and most populous country in the European Union, with a population of around 516,000 in an area of 316 km².
Prime Minister Robert Abela, accompanied by his wife Lydia Abela, votes in Marsaskala on March 26, 2022, during the parliamentary elections in Malta. (AFP/Matthew MIRABELLI)
The former British colony, where Catholicism is the state religion and awaiting a visit from Pope Francis next weekend, has built a thriving economy based largely on tourism, offshore companies and online gambling, but in the face of accusations of being a tax haven.
Last year, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) placed Malta on a “grey list” of countries under scrutiny for their exposure to money laundering and terrorist financing, and has been criticized for its “golden passport” system providing citizenship rich investors who often never go there.
Under political pressure, Abela suspended the program for Russians and Belarusians after the invasion of Ukraine, but this month the European Parliament called for the cancellation of all such programs in the EU.
Labor Party supporters react to the announcement of the first voting results on 27 March 2022 in Nashar, Malta (AFP/ )
For many voters, economic growth remains their primary concern. After the free fall of the economy caused by the health crisis, growth exceeded 9% last year, helped by government support for individuals and businesses.
Another important issue for the archipelago is the environment. Residents regularly complain about the lack of green spaces after the explosion of developments in recent years.
Modern skyscrapers sprout between old stone buildings, and the roads are often congested with traffic.
Both the Labor Party and the Nationalist Party have pledged to do more to protect green spaces. As for the environmentalist party, the ADPD, it has failed to integrate itself into the two-party system that has ruled Malta for decades.