VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — Two contenders for Malta’s next leader are pledging to work to restore the country’s reputation abroad as the beleaguered prime minister of the European Union nation prepares to step down.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was set to deliver his final address to the nation Friday evening. Muscat announced Dec. 1 that he would resign as leader of the ruling Labor Party and prime minister amid increasing demands at home and abroad for accountability in the car bomb assassination of an investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Muscat, who is halfway through his second term in the prime minister’s office, delayed his resignation by six weeks to let the Labor Party go through the process of electing a new leader.
His promise to step down has failed to quell anti-government protests by Maltese angry over links between Muscat’s office and the 2017 bomb blast that killed Caruana Galizia, whose anti-corruption reporting targeted members of the government.
A deputy premier and a lawmaker are vying to replace him. The one picked to be Labor’s new leader in a party election on Saturday will become prime minister, and Muscat would ill step aside as premier within days.
On Nov. 30, a day before Muscat told the nation he would leave office, a prominent Maltese businessman, Yorgen Fenech, was arraigned on charges that included complicity in the murder. He has pleaded innocent.
A hearing is expected later this month before a court decides whether Fenech should stand trial.
Loose financial and banking rules have made Malta an attractive place for money launderers.
The Panama Papers leak of documents revealed that Schembri and a then-Cabinet minister, Konrad Mizzi, secretively opened companies in Panama. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.