VALLETTA (Reuters) - Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat won a second term in office after calling a snap parliamentary election last month to counter allegations of corruption against his wife and some of his political allies.
Muscat’s Labour Party won 55 percent of votes in Saturday’s election, handing it an absolute majority in the 65-seat parliament, according to political sources on both sides involved in the vote tally.
The Labour Party had polled about five percentage points ahead of the rival Nationalist Party going into the vote. Nationalist Party chief Simon Busuttil called Muscat and conceded defeat on Sunday morning.
Muscat’s supporters celebrated the victory on the streets of the Mediterranean island, blaring car horns and waving flags.
“Thank you for this big vote of confidence,” Muscat told thousands of cheering supporters at his party’s just outside the capital.
“You have confirmed your confidence in the movement despite one of the most negative electoral campaigns in the country’s history,” he said, pledging to push through legislation that had been put on hold for the vote.
Muscat has promised to cut taxes and raise pensions, tackle traffic congestion, and legalize gay marriage.
The 43-year-old Muscat will be sworn in on Monday, after which he will begin forming his new government that will have a five-year mandate.
About 92 percent of the island’s 342,000 eligible voters cast a ballot, the electoral commission said.
Muscat based his campaign on Malta’s buoyant economy, which has been one of the strongest in the euro zone over the past four years. Growth is running at about 6 percent, unemployment is at a record low of about 4 percent, and wages and pensions are rising.
Malta, which has a population of 400,000, is the European Union’s smallest state and currently holds the bloc’s six-month rotating presidency.
Before the snap vote was called, Busuttil and the Nationalist Party had demanded Muscat step down over allegations of improper business dealings by his wife and some of his associates.
Muscat has denied all the accusations and has described the claims against his wife as the “mother of all lies.” Magistrates are investigating.
The 48-year-old Busuttil, a lawyer and former member of the European Parliament, has said doubts tied to the corruption scandal risk undermining Malta’s reputation, particularly in financial services, which account for a fifth of the economy.
Writing by Steve Scherer in Rome; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Mark Heinrich