Malta is a parliamentary democracy with regular, competitive elections and periodic rotations of power. However, new and smaller political parties encounter difficulties in challenging the dominance of the two main parties, and official corruption is a serious problem. While civil liberties are generally respected, mistreatment of migrant workers and asylum seekers remains a concern.
- In March, the ruling Labour Party (PL) won its third consecutive parliamentary elections, defeating the rival Nationalist Party (PN). Recent constitutional changes aimed at improving Parliament’s gender balance permitted 12 women candidates who were runners up in their races to take seats as lawmakers.
- In October, two brothers pleaded guilty to assassinating journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 and were each sentenced to 40 years in prison. A third codefendant had pleaded guilty in 2021. The trial of businessman Yorgen Fenech, the alleged financier of the plot, was still pending at year’s end.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The president is head of state and is elected by Parliament for a five-year term. George Vella of the LP was elected president in 2019, running unopposed. Under constitutional reforms adopted in 2020, future presidents will require the support of two-thirds of Parliament.
The president nominates the prime minister, who must be a member of Parliament and command a parliamentary majority. Robert Abela, the prime minister and LP leader since 2020, secured a new mandate after the March 2022 parliamentary elections.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
Members of the unicameral Parliament are elected for a five-year term through a system of single transferable votes in multimember districts. Maltese elections are generally considered free and fair. In the March 2022 balloting, the governing center-left LP won 44 of 79 seats, leaving the center-right PN with 35. While the elections were the first to include voters as young as 16, overall participation declined compared with 2017.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution and the electoral law provide for democratic elections. Members of the independent Electoral Commission (EC) are appointed by the president, on the advice of the prime minister after consulting the leader of the opposition. Successive reforms since 1987 have strengthened the proportionality between votes received and parliamentary seats won by political parties, but the electoral system continues to make it difficult for smaller parties to win enough votes for representation.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||3.003 4.004|
There are no significant restrictions on political party formation. However, smaller parties struggle to compete against the two established parties, which have superior access to private donations. The European Commission, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) at the Council of Europe (CoE), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Malta Chamber of Commerce, and the commissioner for standards in public life have all highlighted loopholes in a 2015 Financing of Political Parties Act, whose high thresholds for public disclosure do not ensure a sufficient level of transparency in the funding of political activities by parties and individual candidates.
After the March 2022 elections, the third-ranked Democratic Alternative and Democratic Party (ADPD) alliance filed a constitutional challenge, arguing that its national vote tally should have earned it a seat in Parliament even if it fell short in each of the 13 five-seat districts. The group also asserted that it should have access to additional seats under a new system designed to ensure greater representation for women; the gender adjustments only apply if just two parties win ordinary seats, meaning third parties cannot benefit.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
The LP and PN have regularly alternated in government since independence in 1964, establishing a strong pattern of peaceful democratic transfers of power.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||3.003 4.004|
Voters are free from undue interference in their political choices. However, powerful economic interests influence the main political parties. In a 2022 report, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) emphasized that nontransparent lobbying is a serious issue in Malta, and that “the perception of undue influence and an opaque relationship between the public and private sectors is significant.”
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||4.004 4.004|
Women and members of racial or ethnic minority groups enjoy full political rights and electoral opportunities. The number of women in Parliament more than doubled to 22 after the 2022 elections due to the implementation of a gender-quota system called for in 2021 constitutional amendments. The system awards up to 12 compensatory seats to candidates from the elected parties, but only if “the underrepresented sex” would otherwise hold less than 40 percent of the chamber, and if just two parties were elected.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
Elected representatives are generally able to make policy without undue interference. Constitutional reforms adopted in 2020 were designed to reinforce the independence of the president and the judiciary, but the CoE has continued to call for stronger institutional checks on the government.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
Anticorruption efforts are weak, and senior government officials and businesspeople have been linked to corruption and influence peddling in recent years. The Permanent Commission against Corruption (PCAC), created in 1988, lacks independent prosecutorial authority. The 2020 constitutional reforms empowered it to send its findings to the attorney general for further action. Also under the reforms, legislators—rather than the prime minister—select the PCAC chairperson. Nevertheless, the commission has limited resources and has not shown tangible results.
In January 2022, police searched the residence of former prime minister Joseph Muscat as part of a corruption investigation involving a private company’s 2018 deal to operate three state-owned hospitals. Separately during 2022, Yorgen Fenech, a stakeholder in energy firm Electrogas Malta, was awaiting trial for allegedly orchestrating the 2017 murder of Caruana Galizia. The journalist had accused the company of involvement in corruption before her death.
GRECO and its Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti–Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism reported in 2021 that Malta was making progress in fighting money laundering, and in June 2022 the Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental money laundering watchdog, removed Malta from its “grey list” of countries that are subject to special monitoring.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||3.003 4.004|
Malta has a Freedom of Information Act and asset disclosure rules for public officials. However, journalists’ information requests are rarely answered. The Shift, an online news outlet, remained locked in a legal battle with the government during 2022 over a series of information requests dating to 2020, despite favorable rulings from the country’s data protection commissioner.
Government contracts are often withheld from the public. In 2021, the National Audit Office criticized an opaque 2015 agreement allowing a private company to operate three public hospitals, which were transferred to a second contractor in 2018 after the first firm collapsed. The auditor noted a lack of documentation, the initial contractor’s failure to meet its obligations, and concerns surrounding the company’s financial condition, among other issues.
|Are there free and independent media?||3.003 4.004|
The media are generally free and diverse. Residents have full access to international news services and domestic outlets, though state-owned media favor the government. Maltese journalists face harassment and libel accusations. While libel has been decriminalized, it remains a civil offense, and media freedom groups have repeatedly called for stronger legal protections against SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) cases targeting the media.
In October 2022, two brothers pleaded guilty to assassinating Caruana Galizia in 2017; they were each sentenced to 40 years in prison. A third codefendant had pleaded guilty in 2021.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion, but members of religious minorities worship freely, and incitement of religious hatred is banned.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
The education system is generally free from political indoctrination and other constraints on academic freedom.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||3.003 4.004|
Individuals are largely free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution. However, many Maltese, particularly public employees, fear retribution for criticizing powerful actors. Social media harassment is widespread, especially against journalists. In 2022, lawmakers were considering legislation to punish cyberstalking and cyberbullying, but critics warned that it could be used by political leaders to silence their critics if not properly amended.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and this right is respected in practice.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including human rights groups, generally operate without state interference.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||4.004 4.004|
The law recognizes the right to form and join trade unions, engage in collective bargaining, and strike. Antiunion discrimination by employers is relatively uncommon.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4.004 4.004|
The judiciary is generally impartial. Judges are appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister, who in turn receives recommendations from an independent Judicial Appointments Committee (JAC) headed by the chief justice. Under 2020 constitutional reforms, the attorney general is no longer a member of the JAC, and the chief justice is appointed on the basis of a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||4.004 4.004|
Police and prosecutors typically observe due process guarantees, including access to defense counsel and protection against arbitrary arrest. However, court cases take far longer to resolve than the median among CoE member states.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||3.003 4.004|
Residents generally enjoy physical security and freedom from unlawful violence. However, some prisoners and detained migrants have been subjected to physical mistreatment, including torture, in recent years. In 2021, the European Union (EU) Agency for Asylum disclosed that it had received reports of such abuse, and the director of Malta’s prisons was dismissed amid evidence of ill-treatment and suicides among inmates. An official inquiry into prison conditions was conducted, and the government pledged to adopt its recommended reforms. However, the former prisons director was subsequently appointed as a government envoy in Libya to oversee cooperation on combating illegal migration. In October 2022, his successor in the prisons post was charged with threatening an ambulance driver with a gun.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
Discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation, or religion is prohibited by law, and this ban is generally enforced. Transgender people may express their gender identity on government documents. However, a pay gap persists between men and women, and a survey of public opinion published in February 2022 indicated a high level of racial prejudice in society.
While Malta has committed to comply with international and EU rules on refugees and asylum seekers, NGOs working with such individuals sometimes report police harassment and hostility from far-right groups. Many asylum seekers are held in detention centers under overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Maltese authorities have also been criticized for resisting the acceptance of migrants rescued at sea, avoiding their own obligation to conduct rescues, and encouraging pushbacks of migrant vessels to North Africa.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
Residents enjoy full freedom of movement.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||4.004 4.004|
There are no significant restrictions on property rights, and the legal framework is supportive of private business activity.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||3.003 4.004|
Divorce was legalized in 2011, and subsequent laws have legalized same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples.
Abortion is prohibited, meaning residents must acquire medication online or travel abroad to terminate their pregnancies. Prosecutions for illegal abortions are rare in practice, with three convictions between 2000 and mid-2021. Involuntary abortions resulting from secondary effects when a woman is undergoing medical treatment are not prosecuted. In June 2022, a US citizen on vacation in Malta had to be flown to Spain to terminate a pregnancy that became unviable, prompting the affected woman and her partner to sue the Maltese government. A draft law that would decriminalize abortion was introduced in Parliament in November.
Reports of domestic violence have increased over the past decade. In 2021, the government renewed its strategy to combat gender-based violence and domestic violence.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
Residents generally enjoy fair access to economic opportunity and protection from labor exploitation, though migrant workers are vulnerable to labor and sex trafficking or conditions that amount to forced labor. Workers from non-EU countries complain of low pay, bureaucratic obstacles, and summary deportation if they lose a job and fail to meet tight deadlines for finding new employment and filing related documentation.
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