Malta goes early again

Maltese prime minister Robert Abela announced yesterday that his small Mediterranean country would go to the polls on 26 March, slightly in advance of expectations – the last election, in 2017, was on 3 June. You can read my preview of the 2017 poll here for some general explanation of how Malta’s elections work.

This will be Abela’s first election as prime minister, but his Labour Party has been in office since 2013. It’s had a torrid time of it lately; Abela’s predecessor, Joseph Muscat, called an early election in 2017 to try to circumvent corruption allegations arising from the Panama Papers. Although he won it, the scandal only got worse with the murder later that year of a journalist involved with the investigation, provoking an outburst of public indignation.

Muscat eventually resigned at the beginning of 2020 and the party chose Abela to replace him. The latter was immediately confronted with the outbreak of Covid-19, but the government’s measures to deal with it seem to have been reasonably satisfactory – being an island evidently helps. Malta’s death rate, while much greater than Australia’s, has only been about half the European Union average.

Meanwhile, the centre-right opposition, the Nationalist Party, was having an even worse time of things. Then-leader Simon Busuttil resigned in the wake of the 2017 defeat and was replaced by Adrian Delia, but despite Labour’s troubles the party went backwards in the 2019 European parliament election. Delia was unseated by his party in October 2020, leaving new leader Bernard Grech with less than a year and a half to turn things around.

Polls show Labour unlikely to be troubled. Having led by more than 11 points last time, 55.0% to 43.7%, it has since extended that to the neighborhood of 17 points. As usual, there is no prospect of anyone outside the two major parties playing a role, although most unusually a third party does have seats: the Democratic Party (liberals) won two seats last time on the Nationalists’ ticket, but are now running independently after merging with the Democratic Alliance (Greens).

Even so, the merged party, AD+PD, is only polling in the low single figures, showing once again that proportional representation is no guarantee of success for minor parties.

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