A new chapter in Malta’s political history began when the island’s Labour Party returned to power for the first time in 15 years after a decisive victory in the last general election in March 2013. Labour won 55 per cent of the vote, with a 12 per cent margin over the Nationalist Party (43 per cent) – the biggest victory recorded since the Mediterranean island obtained independence from Britain in 1964. The result made then 39-year-old Joseph Muscat the youngest prime minister in the EU.
Malta was a British Crown Colony for over 150 years, and the legacy of that period can still be seen in the country’s political and economic systems. The colonial authorities first granted Malta internal self-government in 1849, but independence did not come until 1964 when Malta became a member of the British Commonwealth, with Queen Elizabeth II as the titular head of state. In 1974, Malta declared itself a republic with a parliament-elected president who is head of state, and a prime minister who leads an elected government for five-year terms. The president, who is the titular head of state, is elected by parliament, which has 69 seats. Local government is administered through 68 local councils which have responsibility for the provision of services such as waste collection, road maintenance etc.
Parties and Personalities
Malta has a de facto two-party system, with the Nationalist and Labour parties alternating in government. The Nationalist Party is similar in outlook to European Christian Democrats, like the CDU in Germany. For its part, Labour can be compared to its UK counterpart and is centrist in nature. Since independence, the political landscape has been dominated by Labour and the Nationalists. Other attempts to enter the political arena, most recently by the Democratic Alternative (an environmentalist party established in 1989), were all unsuccessful. Malta has one of the highest levels of public political participation in the EU, with turnout for elections regularly exceeding 90 per cent.
Between 1971 and 1987, Malta was governed by a Labour administration which saw a significant expansion of the public sector and social services, along with government in the running of the economy. This was to change in 1987 with the election of the Nationalist Party which saw the beginning of a process of economic liberalisation with an emphasis on the private sector as the driver of growth and a reduced role for the state in running the economy. In the most recent elections, held in March 2013, the Labour Party gained 30,000 more votes with its promise of creating a ‘Malta for All’ and now has a nine-seat majority in parliament. Lawrence Gonzi, the former prime minister, resigned after the party lost the election and Simon Busuttil was elected leader of the opposition National Party. Malta’s current president, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, is a former minister who took office on 4 April 2014. Coleiro Preca is the youngest person to hold the office of President, at the age of 55, and is the second woman appointed for the post.
Both parties are now committed to enhancing the role of the private sector and both are pro business. The priorities of the current government include framing a new energy policy, boosting the economy’s competitiveness and introducing anti-corruption measures. Reforms in health, education and the public finances, along with continued diversification of the economy, have all been flagged by the current government. A commitment to securing a consensus that transcends the political divide has contributed greatly to Malta’s stability, helping to enhance its reputation internationally.