Malta to hold parliamentary election on March 26

VALLETTA, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Malta will hold a general election on March 26, Prime Minister Robert Abela said on Sunday, adding that he would ask the president to dissolve parliament.

The government's five-year term ends in June and opinion polls say a vote is set to hand a third successive term to Abela's centre-left Labour Party.

"The future is bright because we're strong in the present," Abela told supporters at a rally in Floriana just outside Malta's capital Valletta.

Abela has been prime minister and Labour leader since the resignation in January 2020 of Joseph Muscat, who led the party to landslide victories in 2013 and 2017.

Muscat resigned following the arrest of a top businessman, Yorgen Fenech, who was accused of complicity in the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017.

Media reported at the time that Muscat and his chief of staff were close friends of Fenech. Neither has been accused of involvement in the murder.

Muscat and his Chief of Staff Keith Schembri have confirmed their friendships with Fenech but deny involvement or prior knowledge of the murder.

Despite Muscat's resignation and other controversies over government corruption, Labour remains popular thanks to a strong economy and generous assistance to businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Its chief rival, the Opposition centre right Nationalist Party has, meanwhile, seen three leaders in five years and is struggling to present itself as a united alternative government.

The March 26 election will be held a week before Pope Francis is due to visit the Mediterranean island. Turnout at general elections is normally strong, exceeding 95%.

Reporting by Christopher Scicluna Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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