Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

The Maltese give their confidence back to the Labour Party

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Monday, March 28th 2022 à 15:45 | Read 225 times

The Maltese government has reappointed Robert Abela as its leader (photo: DOI/Pierre Sammut)
The Maltese government has reappointed Robert Abela as its leader (photo: DOI/Pierre Sammut)
MALTA. The camp of the head of government Robert Abela won, on Saturday 26 March 2022, the legislative elections in Malta with 55.1% of the vote. The Partit laburista (Labour Party) thus retains the power it has held for nine years. This election, the first since the political and judicial scandals that hit the Mediterranean island, was a test.
Robert Abela took over the government in January 2020 to replace Joseph Muscat at short notice. The latter, a prominent member of the Labour Party, was forced to resign and was let down by several of his ministers. He was accused of corruption and obstruction of justice in the case of the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017. The European Parliament had in December 2019 passed a resolution stating that "as long as the Maltese Prime Minister remains in power, there will remain a serious risk of obstruction of ongoing investigations". MEPs referred to a "serious and persistent threat to the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights" and their "concern about media freedom, the independence of the police and the judiciary, freedom of assembly and the separation of powers.

Their vigilance will now be heightened by the fact that Roberta Metsola, the new President of the European Parliament - elected in January 2022 to succeed David Sassoli, who died on the night of 10-11 January 2022 just a few days before the election - is from the opposition Nazzjonalista Party (Nationalist Party).

Robert Abela was sworn in on Monday 28 March 2022 (photo: DOI/Jason Borg)
Robert Abela was sworn in on Monday 28 March 2022 (photo: DOI/Jason Borg)

Lowest turnout since 1955

The Nationalists failed to win the election to ensure a changeover. Without waiting for the final results on Monday 28 March 2022, their number one, Bernard Grech, admitted defeat (41.7% of the ballots) in a telephone call to his opponent. Roberta Metsola publicly affirmed her support for her colleague on Saturday 26 March 2022. She said she would not give up her post in Brussels any time soon despite calls from the deputy president of the Nationalist Party, Robert Arrigo, who said: "Help us Roberta" on his twitter account as soon as the results of the legislative elections were known. Elections will be held for the presidency of this party, as after every defeat, and Bernard Grech has already announced that he will run. When asked by the newspaper Malta Today about the possibility of her taking over the leadership of the Nationalist Party, Roberta Metsola refused to comment. She merely said that she would play her part in the local political scene by representing Malta at European level.

However, these elections showed the relative reluctance of the Maltese to go to the polls compared to other European countries. According to the Electoral Commission, the turnout was "only" 85.5%. This is the lowest rate recorded since 1955, while it has always exceeded 90% since 1966 (92% in 2017 during the last legislative elections) in this former British colony, which has been independent since 1964. This drop is all the more significant as Maltese between the ages of 16 and 18 could, for the first time, vote in a national election.

A "more beautiful Malta"

"The people have put their trust in us to move the country forward and we must return the favour with humility," said the head of the re-elected government on Sunday 27 March 2022, claiming his victory. "To those who were not sure whether they should trust us, I promise you that we will work harder to convince you and we will not tolerate any arrogance."
Robert Abela intends to deliver a better quality of life, better opportunities for all and a "more beautiful Malta".

A member of the Labour Party, but not a former minister under Joseph Muscat, he has stood out from his predecessor since taking office. He has notably enacted reforms to democratise the institutions. The Prime Minister no longer appoints judges and the police chief. He has also strengthened press freedom.

Malta, and the Labour Party, is trying to emerge from a never-ending dark period. The country was placed on a grey list in 2021 by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a Paris-based intergovernmental body, because of its exposure to money laundering and terrorist financing. Robert Abela must also try to erase its image as a tax haven. The golden passport system (granting citizenship to wealthy investors) is still in progress. While it has recently been suspended for Russian and Belarusian citizens since the invasion of Ukraine, the programme continues for other nationalities. This is despite repeated calls, as recently as 28 March 2022, from the European Parliament to end the practice throughout the EU.

In January 2022, three NGOs also accused the island of "complicity in crimes against humanity" for its management of the Libyan refugee crisis.
To counterbalance all this, Robert Abela relied in his campaign on his good management of the health crisis (200 M€ paid to compensate for the economic consequences and 200 M€ more promised).

All this was coupled with a good economic record with a 9% increase in GDP by 2021. His ambitious electoral programme included 1,000 proposals. "Let's work together to turn them into achievements," he said.
A Member State since 2004, Malta is both the smallest country in the European Union and the most densely populated with 516,000 inhabitants (including 340,552 registered voters in these elections) for 316 km². The economy of the Mediterranean island is based on tourism, financial services and online gaming.

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