VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela claimed victory in his country’s general election on Sunday, hours before the official results.
If victory is confirmed, the Labor Party would enter its third consecutive term, beating its traditional rival, the Nationalist Party. The election took place on Saturday in the Mediterranean island state with around 500,000 inhabitants, which is a member of the European Union.
The actual vote count should be completed and announced either later Sunday or early Monday.
“Yesterday the Maltese people decided that Malta should move forward,” Abela told reporters in a brief statement at the counting hall where the election results were being tallied.
Abela previously told Maltese state broadcaster: “We have a clear indication that the Labor Party will have an absolute majority.”
Labor had taken the lead in all opinion polls ahead of the election.
His rival for the premiership, Nationalist Party leader Bernard Grech, posted a video comment on Facebook saying he called Abela and conceded his defeat.
Abela appealed to national unity and promised that his government would work in the interest of all people without discrimination.
About 85% of those entitled to vote cast their votes. Normal voter turnout is usually over 90%.
Abela became Prime Minister in January 2020 after Joseph Muscat resigned amid protests surrounding the 2017 car bombing of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was investigating corruption and links between business interests and politicians in Malta.
During the election campaign, selling Maltese citizenship to the rich on the campaign trail came under fire amid EU sanctions on Russian oligarchs following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The nationalists called for the suspension of the sale of citizenship to Russian nationals. Earlier this month, Abela’s government suspended sales to both Russian and Belarusian nationals, stating that existing due diligence checks could not be carried out effectively in the current wartime scenario.
Muscat was under pressure to resign following the arrest of a prominent local businessman, Yorgen Fenech. An independent investigation into the bombing, published in July 2021, found that the culture of impunity at the time, which emanated from the highest levels of government, meant that the Maltese state had to bear “responsibility” for the journalist’s killing.
As in much of southern Europe, high prices have hurt energy consumers. The Maltese government subsidizes energy bills to keep prices stable and both parties in the campaign had pledges to continue the subsidies.
Abela’s government was widely believed to have successfully managed the Covid-19 pandemic with a range of measures to support businesses and workers, while keeping unemployment low.
But a government move to issue tax refunds and stimulus checks to the public halfway through the campaign sparked controversy. Grech condemned the writing of the checks on Sunday, saying his political opponents sent the funds “to try to influence the electorate.”
This story has been corrected to show that Malta’s population is around 500,000 and not 400,000.