Malta to hold March 26 vote to decide next government

FILE - Malta's Prime Minister Robert Abela arrives for an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels on Feb. 21, 2020. Malta will head to the polls on March 26, 2022 to decide who will run the country for the next five years. The general election announcement was made by the countrys Prime Minister, Robert Abela, during a political event on Sunday. He said that he will advise the President to dissolve Parliament in order for an election to be held. The governments five-year-term was set to come to an end in June. (Ludovic Marin, Pool Photo via AP) (Ludovic Marin, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

VALLETTA – Voters in Malta will elect a new Parliament in a few weeks in balloting that will also decide the island nation’s next government.

During a political event on Sunday, Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela announced that the election will be held on March 26 in the European Union nation. He said he will advise the Maltese president to dissolve Parliament to clear the way for the election.

The Labour Party has been in power since 2013, after winning back-to-back elections. The Nationalists are Malta's other main political party. The government’s five-year-term was set to end in June.

In the last election in 2017, Labour triumphed by taking 55% of the votes.

This balloting will be the first time that both the prime minister and his political opponent who leads the Nationalist Party will contest an election as heads of their political parties.

Abela replaced Joseph Muscat as Labour Party leader and prime minister in January 2020. Muscat stepped down in the wake of protests that erupted after the arrest of businessman Yorgen Fenech in connection with the car bomb assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who investigated corruption and ties between business and politicians in Malta.

Fenech was involved in a major power station deal with the government. Last August, an indictment was issued against Fenech on charges of complicity in the journalist's murder. The case is ongoing.

Heading the Nationalist Party is Bernard Grech, who took over in October 2020 after the party was plagued by internal divisions.

In the last five years, opinion polls have showed the Labour Party comfortably ahead of their rivals. The same polls also found a substantial number of undecided voters.

Recent political scandals swirling around Abela or his government might affect the mood of voters.

One of the scandals centered on Abela back in 2018 and his stake in a preliminary agreement over a property sale that could have been used as a legal loophole to avoid tax exposure. Abela has written off such scandal news as “political spin” by opponents.

In a possible boost to Labour's fortunes, Malta's economic prospects look bright. According to the European Commission's economic forecast, its economy is expected to grow 6% this year, the highest percentage among EU nations.