VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — A first-term lawmaker whose father was Malta’s president has been chosen to be the country’s prime minister, replacing Joseph Muscat after weeks of protests demanding accountability in the investigation of the car bomb slaying of an anti-corruption journalist who targeted his government.
The count on Sunday showed Robert Abela received nearly 58% of votes cast a day earlier by members of the governing Labour Party eligible to choose the new leader.
But although many Maltese had pushed for Muscat’s resignation, after the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017, the changing of the office guard might not bring much policy change.
Although Abela, a 42-year-old specialist in labor and industrial law, did pledge ahead of the party vote on Saturday to help repair Malta’s reputation, in many ways he is considered a protege of Muscat.
The Labour Party, which commands a comfortable majority in Parliament, appeared to choose a leader who would follow much in Muscat’s path.
Stepping down midway though his second term as premier, Muscat tweeted his congratulations, saying, “Proud to be handing over to him #Malta PM office on Monday,” when Abela will be sworn in.
Before being chosen as Labour leader, Abela, said he would work to restore Malta’s reputation for rule of law. European Union lawmakers had criticized the member nation’s judiciary and police.
A close aide to Muscat was questioned in connection with journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s killing, denied wrongdoing and was released while still under investigation. A Maltese hotelier, who denies involvement, has been accused of complicity in the killing. Three other men, accused of triggering the car bomb, are under arrest.
Muscat had beaten Abela’s father in the race for the party leadership in 2008. George Abela was later appointed president, serving from 2009 until 2014.