Malta is a country located in the region of Southern Europe. The Social Democratic Labor Party took over government power in 2013. The party was re-elected in the summer of 2017, even though leading politicians within the party were accused of involvement in suspicious business transactions in connection with the so-called Panama documents. In early 2020, disclosures in connection with the investigation into the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia 2017 led to the replacement of the party’s head of government.
The Labor Party won a clear victory in the 2013 parliamentary elections with 55 percent of the vote. The Nationalist Party got 40 percent. New Prime Minister became Labor leader Joseph Muscat.
- Countryaah: Country facts and history of Malta, including state flag, location map, demographics, GDP data, currency code, and business statistics.
During the election campaign, the Labor Party had promised to work for a more just and open government in the office. One promise was that public services should be added primarily on merit. As a consequence, the Labor Party appointed a number of political opponents to government posts and posts within the state administration, which caused controversy within both parties. The Labor Party members complained that the Nationalist Party had already given many of its members important items before the election, while the Nationalist Party claimed that the appointments made it harder for the Party to fulfill its role as opposition party and review the work of the government.
Other changes received better reception, such as the introduction of a law to protect “whistleblowers” (people who alert about misconduct) and the abolition of a time limit for corruption charges against politicians. The government also introduced ethical rules for MPs and increased transparency about how the state spent its tax revenues.
In the area of civil law reforms were also implemented. It became easier to get a divorce and gays got the right to enter into partnerships and adopt children. Free daycare was introduced in the hope of attracting more women into the labor market.
The government’s failures included a heavily delayed power plant construction. The government also met with resistance and was forced to revise its plans to sell Maltese citizenship to foreign investors (see Calendar).
The government continued to enjoy high confidence despite its reputation being sunk by a couple of real estate deals criticized by the state’s accountants. To this end, a good economy contributed with historically low unemployment and a budget space for investments in pensions and other elements of the welfare system.
When the scandal surrounding the so-called Panama Papers broke out in the spring of 2016, the Energy Minister and the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff were singled out for hiding money on secret accounts in various tax havens.
Against the backdrop of the scandal, the opposition directed a declaration of no confidence in the government which was voted down by the numbers 38 to 31. After the vote, the government was reformed and several ministers were replaced.
But the Panama deal was not outsourced. A year later, in April 2017, a blogger went out with information allegedly coming from the Panama leaks that the Prime Minister’s wife Michelle Muscat owned a so-called offshore company (mailbox company) in Panama. Muscat claimed that he and his wife had nothing to hide, but a judicial inquiry would be launched. At the same time, anti-corruption demonstrations were held in Valletta.
In early May, Muscat announced that a new election would be held on June 3, one year before his term expires. He said that the corruption rumors would otherwise risk undermining economic development.
The incumbent government benefited from the continued good economy, for 2017 a growth of 5 percent was predicted and central government debt was under control.
The short electoral movement was dominated by the Panama scandal and its consequences for Malta. When the election results were largely clear, it turned out that the Labor Party and Prime Minister Muscat, despite the scandal, gained renewed confidence in the electorate.
Journalist murder leads to government crisis
A few months after the new election, in October 2017, the country was shaken by a brutal murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the one who had raised on his popular blog the suspicions that Prime Minister Muscat and his wife were linked to the Panama scandal. Prime Minister Muscat condemned the murder, but admitted that Galizia had been his “main opponent”. He promised to bring justice. In his blog, Galizia had also accused the opposition party Nationalist Party of corruption.
Three men were arrested a couple of months after the murder, but yet in the fall of 2019 no trial had been held. Early criticism was directed at the government and the police from judges and human rights organizations, both abroad and within the country, for those who planned and ordered the murder to go free.
In the summer of 2018, Prime Minister Muscat was freed from corruption suspicions in connection with the Panama scandal. An inquest had been made by a judge in the country without any evidence showing that Joseph Muscat was guilty of financial crime. His wife, who had also been investigated, was found to be innocent.
In September 2019, the government appointed a public inquiry into the murder of Caruana Galizia. This happened after the Council of Europe adopted a resolution in June the same year that criticized the Maltese judiciary and demanded an independent investigation within three months.
A few months later, Yorgen Fenech, an influential businessman with connections to both tourism and the energy sector, was arrested on suspicion of ordering the murder. A man who was alleged to have hired the perpetrators who performed the deed had pointed out Fenech after being promised to avoid legal penalties. A lawsuit was initiated against Fenech, which owns a company registered in Dubai that is alleged to own secret shell companies in Panama. These, in turn, according to what journalist Caruana Galizia previously wrote about in their blog, have made payments to two members of the current government, Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and Minister of Tourism Konrad Mizzi. Fenech identified Schembri as the one who planned the murder of Caruana Galizia, which resulted in Schembri and Mizzi leaving their records. Many in the population continued to be critical of the government’s handling of the murder case, and even argued that “Muscat was an obstacle to justice”. Several demonstrations were held in Valletta with thousands of participants. In early December, Muscat announced he would step down, but only when the Labor Party appointed a successor at the beginning of next year. In early 2020, Robert Abela took over as new prime minister after being elected new leader of the Labor Party.
Follow developments in the calendar.
FACTS – POLITICS
Republic of ta’Malta / Republic of Malta
republic, unitary state
Head of State
President George Vella (2019)
Head of government
Prime Minister Robert Abela (2020)
Most important parties with mandates in the last election
Labor Party 37, Nationalist Party 30 (2017)
Main parties with mandates in the second most recent elections
Nationalist Party 39, Labor Party 30 (2013)
just over 92% in the 2017 parliamentary elections
parliamentary elections 2022, the parliament appoints a new president 2024