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Christopher Scicluna

Malta's Labour expected to win again despite scandals

FILE PHOTO: Malta's Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party Robert Abela addresses supporters after calling general election on March 26, at a political rally in Floriana, Malta February 20, 2022. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/File Photo

Malta, the European Union's smallest member state, holds parliamentary elections on Saturday with the Labour government widely expected to win a third consecutive term, despite a wave of controversies and scandals.

Opinion polls show Prime Minister Robert Abela's centre-left Labour Party will win 55% of the vote, well ahead of the opposition centre-right Nationalist Party at 42.5%, with the rest seen going to small parties or independent candidates.

This is Labour's first general election with Abela as its leader. He became prime minister in January 2020, succeeding Joseph Muscat who resigned after the arrest of businessman Yorgen Fenech, 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 have denied having had prior knowledge of the murder. Schembri was subsequently charged with money laundering and corruption. He has pleaded not guilty.

Caruana Galizia's death and subsequent corruption probes rocked Europe, raising questions about the rule of law on the Mediterranean island.

However, the scandals have barely registered in the election campaign, with Abela focusing instead on how his government guided the economy through the COVID storm, telling voters not to jeopardise the recovery in an uncertain world.

"A Labour victory will mean continued economic growth for Malta rather than a return to austerity," Abela told a recent rally, referring to cutbacks introduced by the former Nationalist government during the 2008 financial crisis.

In 2021 Malta was greylisted by the global authority on money laundering, and the government has been criticised by the European Union for offering citizenship to wealthy foreigners.

The government said it did not deserve to come under additional scrutiny and has also stoutly defended its citizen scheme, which gives outsiders free access to the European Union.


However, the sale of passports to Russians and Belarusians was suspended this month after officials said full due diligence was not possible following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The Times of Malta reported that before Abela became prime minister he had rented out one of his properties to two Russian passport applicants without ever checking to see if they had actually lived there, as required of prospective citizens.

Abela denied any wrongdoing and opinion polls suggest the issue has barely registered with voters as the premier focuses on his track record in office, and on how generous subsidies kept businesses afloat at the height of the COVID-19 crisis.

During the election campaign he has also given residents between 100 euros and 200 euros ($110-$220) each as compensation for rising food prices. Meanwhile, he has frozen energy prices at nearly half those of nearby Italy, safeguarding the country from soaring international oil and gas prices.

Turnout for elections in Malta is usually well above 90%. Results are expected on Sunday.

($1 = 0.9088 euros)

(Editing by Crispian Balmer and Toby Chopra)

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