Malta’s ruling Labour party has claimed victory in national elections as Prime Minister Robert Abela promised humility and a greener Malta as he celebrated his party’s third successive win.
Official results have yet to be declared, but the Labour Party said it expected its victory to be even bigger than the 55 percent majorities it won in 2013 and 2017. The opposition centre-right Nationalist Party conceded defeat. Final results were expected late on Sunday or Monday.
The vote was an important personal test for the 44-year-old Abela, who took the helm of the tiny Mediterranean island nation in January 2020 following an internal Labour vote.
He has spent much of his tenure managing the coronavirus pandemic, which hit Malta within weeks of his taking office, to widespread approval.
Abela promises ‘humility’
Addressing thousands of flag-waving supporters from a balcony at Labour headquarters just outside Valletta on Sunday, Abela repeatedly insisted that his hallmark would be humility.
“Humility will characterise this government, I will insist on humility from those chosen to work within it, and I will lead by example,” Abela, son of former Maltese President George Abela, said.
He said his government would seek national unity, insisting that everyone had a contribution to give to the country.
With his wife and 10-year-old daughter beside him, he said he wanted to achieve better living standards, better opportunities for all, and a more environment-friendly Malta.
Environmental issues were seen as one of the outgoing government’s weakest points as Malta, Europe’s most densely populated island, had a building boom that encroached on open spaces.
The building spree was a result of a strong economy which attracted thousands of workers to the island.
Abela was credited with keeping the economy going through the COVID-19 crisis, maintaining public support through generous assistance to businesses and consumer vouchers to all residents.
He kept unemployment at a record low, froze energy costs despite soaring prices abroad, and raised pensions repeatedly. His Labour government has never raised taxes and says it will not do so.
Over the past year Abela also ushered in a raft of rule-of-law reforms to counter claims of government corruption and greylisting of Malta by the FATF, the global watchdog on money laundering.
Abela was largely unaffected by repeated allegations of corruption made against his party by Bernard Grech’s Nationalist Party. Grech, like Abela, is a lawyer.
Abela’s predecessor Joseph Muscat resigned after the arrest of businessman Yorgen Fenech, who was accused of complicity in the murder of anti-corruption blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017.
Fenech had been a close friend of Muscat’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri. Both Muscat and Schembri denied having had prior knowledge of the murder.
A public inquiry last year found the state under Muscat created a “culture of impunity” in which the journalist’s enemies felt they could silence her.
Abela was not a minister in Muscat’s cabinet but had been a legal adviser, and many believe he was only elected Labour leader with his predecessor’s support.
When he took over, Abela promised “continuity” but also to make changes to address Labour’s past “mistakes”.
He has since moved to strengthen good governance and press freedom, although Caruana Galizia’s family say there is still much more to do.