Just the Facts: Maltese General Election 2017

A general election took place in Malta on Saturday, 3 June 2017.  The centre-left Labour Party had held a majority in Parliament since the previous general election in March 2013, with Labour Party leader, Joseph Muscat, serving as Prime Minister.  Malta currently holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union.  On Monday, 5 June, with all votes counted, the Labour Party was once again confirmed as the largest party with 37 seats.

Background

The House of Representatives of Malta, the Kamra tad-Deputati, was previously comprised of 65 seats.  However, following errors in the counting process of the 2013 general election, the Constitutional Court granted two additional seats, bringing the total to 67.  Maltese general elections take place every five years, except in the case of a government collapsing.  The island’s 13 districts each send five MPs to Parliament, with voters ranking their preference of candidates in numerical order.  Along with Ireland, Malta is the only country in the world to use this Proportional Representation with a Single Transferable Vote (PR-STV) method in parliamentary elections.  In order to win a seat, a candidate must win a specified quota of votes in a district.  This is determined by taking the number of valid votes and dividing them by the number of seats plus one.

Over the past few decades, Malta has moved from a multi-party political system to a predominately two-party system.  Since 1971, two major parties – the centre-right Nationalist Party and the centre-left Labour Party – have prevailed in elections.  Generally, elections between the two have been very close, resulting in marginal parliamentary majorities for either.  A total of six political parties contested Saturday’s election: Labour Party (PL), Nationalist Party (PN), Democratic Party (PD), Democratic Alternative (AD), Moviment Patrijotti Maltin (MPM) and Alleanza Bidla (AB), as well as Independent candidates.

According to a poll conducted by newspaper The Malta Independent, corruption was the most important issue in this electoral campaign.  Prime Minister Joseph Muscat called the snap election for 3 June, a year before the parliamentary term was to end.  This followed claims, which were denied, that the Prime Minister’s wife owns an off-shore company in Panama.  Despite the claims, Malta’s so-called “economic miracle” characterised by the first national budget surplus in 35 years and record unemployment helped maintain the Labour Party’s lead in the polls.  MaltaToday, an online newspaper, tracked a four point lead for Prime Minister Muscat in the week preceding the election.

In an online streamed debate which took place on 17 May with five party representatives – Prime Minister Muscat (PL), Simon Busuttil (PN), Marlene Farrugia (PD), Arnold Cassola (AD) and Henry Battistino (MPM) – corruption in Maltese politics featured strongly.  Prime Minister Muscat pledged to resign should an ongoing official investigation link him or his wife to the Panama Papers.  Other issues raised by candidates in the debate included the introduction of same-sex marriage, graduate employment opportunities and mental health.

Result

Turnout was more than 92% of the electorate on Saturday, 3 June.  This was the lowest turnout in a general election since 1966.  Having received 55% of the popular vote, the Labour Party was assured of returning as the largest party, winning by a margin of 35,250 votes.  The Labour Party returned with 37 seats, two less than the 2013 general election but surpassing the number required for a parliamentary majority.  The Nationalist Party is forecast to gain the two additional seats allocated since the 2013 general election, thus maintaining the party’s 30 seats.  None of the remaining parties or independent candidates contesting the election reached the quota in any of the 13 districts to gain a single seat.

Implications

Mr Busuttil of the Nationalist Party conceded to Mr Muscat of the Labour Party early on the day of the election.  Speaking at his swearing-in ceremony on Monday, 5 June, Prime Minister Muscat called for unity following the “divisive election campaign”.

The Prime Minister received congratulations from several European leaders, including President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, who commended his leadership as “contribut[ing] constructively in dealing with the challenges we face.”

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