Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela claims victory in his nation’s parliamentary election hours ahead of official results, sparking celebrations among supporters.

This was the first general election in Malta in which 16- and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote.
This was the first general election in Malta in which 16- and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote. (Reuters)

Malta's Labour party has claimed victory in general elections, securing a third term in government despite a legacy of corruption and following the lowest turnout in decades.

Although official results are not expected for hours, Prime Minister Robert Abela claimed victory in a call with Maltese television on Sunday.

In the counting hall in the town of Naxxar, Labour delegates monitoring the vote erupted into cheers.

"We are very satisfied that for the next five years Malta will again have a Labour government," Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne told AFP news agency at the count, saying all signs were of an "absolute majority" for his party.

Michael Piccinino, general secretary of the opposition Nationalist Party, confirmed leader Bernard Grech had spoken to the prime minister to concede.

The Electoral Commission said overnight that turnout looked set to be 85.5 percent, the lowest in a general election since 1955, and the first time it has dropped below 90 percent since 1966.

However, Fearne, who is also Malta's health minister, insisted the turnout was "high by European standards".

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Talking points

The outcome represents the first electoral mandate for Abela, a lawyer who took the reins of the tiny Mediterranean island nation in January 2020 in an internal party vote.

His predecessor, Joseph Muscat, had been forced to quit following public protests over the 2017 car bomb murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who had exposed corruption at the top of his administration.

Abela has since moved to strengthen good governance and press freedom, although Galizia's family say he has not gone far enough.

The Nationalist Party pressed the issue of corruption, but Labour's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its economy record in nine years in power took centre stage.

Many residents complained of a lacklustre campaign involving two largely similar parties —  there has been no third party in Malta's parliament since before independence from Britain in 1964.

Located off the coast of Sicily, Catholic-majority Malta is the smallest and most densely populated country in the European Union, with around 516,000 people living in 316 square kilometres.

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Source: AFP