Under the 1964 constitution – amended in 1974 and 1987 – Malta is a democratic republic with a unicameral House of Representatives of at least 65 members. The country has proportional representation using the single transferable vote system. A party which obtains a majority of votes but minority of seats is allocated additional seats to give it an overall majority of one. The House may not sit for longer than five years.
The President is the head of state and is elected for a five-year period of office by the House of Representatives. The incumbent has executive authority but must act on the cabinet’s advice and the position is therefore largely ceremonial. The Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition are both appointed by the President. The cabinet is appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. All appointees must be members of parliament.
Under the constitution, Roman Catholic Christianity is the state religion and must be taught in state schools.
Although the referendum in 2003 on EU membership gave the Nationalist Party (PN) government a mandate to proceed with ratifying the treaty for accession to the EU in May 2004, the opposition continued to insist that it would take Malta out of the Union if it won the election in 2004, and so the government called an early election, which in April 2003 decisively closed the debate. The PN won the hard-fought contest with 35 of the 65 seats and 51.8 per cent of the votes, a decisive result in a country where the two main parties normally each enjoy the support of about half the electorate. Following the election, the Malta Labour Party, which had won 30 seats, decided to end its opposition to EU membership, thus ending a long and intense period when political activity was focused on one issue.
In March 2004, soon after Dr Edward Fenech-Adami’s 70th birthday, Dr Lawrence Gonzi succeeded him as Prime Minister and in April 2004 Fenech-Adami was elected to the presidency.
The PN was returned to power in the March 2008 parliamentary elections, winning 35 seats (49.3 per cent of votes) while the Labour Party secured the balance of 34 seats (48.8 per cent). Turnout was 93 per cent.
In April 2009, at the end of President Fenech-Adami’s five-year term, Dr George Abela was unanimously elected President by parliament.
On 10 December 2012 the government lost its one-vote majority and was unable to enact its 2013 budget. Parliament was dissolved in January 2013 and an election called.
Partit Laburista (PL, known as the Malta Labour Party until its name was changed in November 2008) won the parliamentary elections of March 2013 and its leader, Dr Joseph Muscat, was sworn in as Prime Minister. PL secured 39 seats, with 54.8 per cent of votes cast, and PN 30 seats with 43.3 per cent. Turnout was again 93 per cent.
In April 2014, at the end of President Abela’s five-year term, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca was unanimously elected President by parliament.