Malta’s ruling party elects new leader

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat stepping down

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat stepping down

Malta’s ruling Labour Party was due Saturday to elect a new leader, with the winner set to take over as prime minister from incumbent Joseph Muscat.

Muscat announced last month he would step down as Labour leader and prime minister, after his top aide was embroiled in the investigation into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Deputy premier Chris Fearne and Labour backbencher Robert Abela are vying to succeed Muscat.

Voting among party members takes place from 8 am to 8 pm (0700-1900 GMT), with results expected early Sunday.

Whoever wins is expected to be sworn in as prime minister on Monday.

Muscat, who has presided over unprecedented economic growth since assuming office in 2013, is leaving amid a public outcry over his office’s potential involvement in the Caruana Galizia murder.

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Caruana Galizia was an investigative journalist who exposed government corruption.

She was killed by a bomb in October 2017, in an incident that caused worldwide consternation.

The man accused of ordering the assassination, prominent Maltese businessman Yorgen Fenech, alleges that Muscat’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri was the ultimate murder mastermind.

Schembri, who resigned in November, has since been arrested twice and then released without charge, and police say he remains under investigation.

The affair has increased international scrutiny on Malta.

In December, the European Parliament said “developments in Malta in recent years have led to serious and persistent threats to the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights.” (dpa/NAN)