Maltese constitutional development has had a rather turbulent history. Under the Order of St John, from 1530 to 1798, democracy was unknown even as an aspiration. The French period was short-lived - from 1798 to 1800 - and was marked by an armed insurrection within months of its commencement. The Bonapartist version of fraternity, which included looting of Churches, was not accepted by the Maltese. To clinch their victory by a naval blockade the British were invited in, with the approval of the King of the Two Sicilies whom the Maltese still recognised as their lawful sovereign (as did the overthrown Grand Master from his exile in Trieste). This was because Malta, before Charles V ceded it to the Knights, had belonged to the Holy Roman Empire; the Knights only got it as a fief, not as owners. When the Treaty of Amiens, which would have returned Malta to the Order in 1802, came to nought and the Napoleonic Wars resumed, the British stayed. In 1814, by the Treaty of Paris, Malta became a British possession.
The first Governor did not as much as set up an Advisory Council. It was not before 1835 that the first Constitution was granted. However, its Council of Government was by nomination.
Maltese claims then centred on representative or responsible government, citing in justification the voluntary nature of Malta's union to Britain and earlier rights of local government through the medieval Commune. On Britain's part, Malta was too strategically important to be allowed much internal freedom so that the more representative Constitutions given in 1887, 1921, 1932 and 1947 were taken away with much the same ease in 1903, 1930 and 1933, and for the last time in 1958. But nevertheless, a body politic formed with rights and expectations. Malta had a free Press "almost uninterruptedly in times of peace" from 1839 onwards, and voting by secret ballot from 1849 onwards.
Contemporary Government and Party political formations owe their origins, and at least some of their characteristics, to these earlier times.
Elections to Parliament are on the basis of a system of proportional representation known as the single-transferable vote.
According to the Constitution of Malta, there should be 65 Members of Parliament, but in the present Malta Parliament there are 69 Members, excluding the Speaker. Of these, 39 sit on the Government side and 30 on the Opposition side. Apart from the Prime Minister, there are currently fifteen Cabinet Ministers, who are assisted by eight Parliamentary Secretaries.
The Speaker may be appointed from within or from outside the House, but once appointed, he benefits from all parliamentary privileges. The full list of Speakers of the House of Representatives from 1921 till the present day can be viewed from here.
Malta's best known leaders in the post-war period have been Dr Giorgio Borg-Olivier (1911-1980), who led the country to Independence, and Mr Dominic Mintoff (1916-2012) who until August 1998 was still an active Labour MP.
Dr Eddie Fenech-Adami (1934- ), succeeded Dr Borg-Olivier as Nationalist Party leader in 1977 and was elected Prime Minister in 1987, replacing Dr Carmelo Mifsud-Bonnici who had substituted Mr Mintoff as the Malta Labour Party Leader in 1984. In 1981, Dr Fenech-Adami's Party won an absolute majority of the popular vote but was denied a majority of seats. Dr Fenech-Adami became Prime Minister in 1987, following Constitutional amendments which guarantee a Parliamentary majority to the Party which wins an absolute majority of the popular vote.
Following the resignation of Dr. Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici from MLP Leader in 1992, Dr. Alfred Sant was elected as new Party Leader. Dr. Sant initiated a party reform, starting from new Party Headquarters down through the party organisational machinery. This new look gave the Malta Labour Party the desired results in winning the majority of Maltese voters. In the General Elections of 1996 General Elections, Dr. Alfred Sant succeeded in obtaining an almost 8,000-vote majority over the Nationalist Party of Dr. Fenech Adami.
Following internal squabbles within the MLP, between Mr Dom. Mintoff, former Party Leader and the actual Leader of the MLP, Prime Minister Dr. Alfred Sant, a snap election was called for 5th September 1998, and Dr. Eddie Fenech Adami was returned as Malta's Prime Minister with an outstanding majority of 5 Parliamentary seats and a 13,000 (+) majority over the Malta Labour Party. This was the first time since Independence, that a 5-year legislature was abruptly halted mid-term, after only 22 months in office.
The year 2003 brought about two electoral consultations: a referendum campaign on Malta's accession to the EU, and the General Elections. The Referendum was held on 8th March 2003 and was won by the YES vote, even though the MLP called for a NO vote, an ABSTENTION vote, or NO VOTE at all. Nonetheless, the YES vote carried the day, but the MLP Leadership did not acknowledge this majority and thus the Prime Minister was compelled to call a General Election for the 12th April 2003. This Election was also won by the Nationalist Party of Dr. Eddie Fenech Adami by a majority of 5 seats and 12,080 votes.
On 7th February 2004, Nationalist Party Leader Dr. Eddie Fenech Adami started the ball rolling for his succession as NP Leader. On 24th March 2004, Prime Minister Dr. Eddie Fenech Adami resigned the premiership and a contest between 3 N.P. candidates was held in which, Dr. Lawrence Gonzi, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Social Policy was elected Leader of the Nationalist Party.
Dr. Lawrence Gonzi, Leader of the Nationalist Party was called by the President of Malta, H.E. Prof. Guido de Marco and appointed as new Prime Minister of Malta. Dr. Gonzi formed his first Cabinet on 24th March 2004.
On 4th April 2004, Dr. Edward Fenech Adami was elected by the Maltese Parliament as the 7th President of the Republic of Malta.
In February 2008, The President of Malta acting on the advice of the Prime Minister, dissolved the House of Representatives at the end of the five year term of the Nationalist Administration, and called for general elections to be held on 8th March 2008.
The General election results gave a wafer-thin majority of votes (1,500), but not of Parliamentary seats, to the Nationalist Party and thus, a Constitutional amendment was invoked which gave 4 extra seats to the NP in order to form a Parliamentary Majority of one seat. The President gave the Oath of Office of Prime Minister to Dr Lawrence Gonzi on the 11th March 2008 for the second term.
In the meantime the Leader of the Malta Labour Party Dr Alfred Sant announced his resignation as Leader of the Party and a leadership contest was held by the MLP. Dr. Joseph Muscat who was a sitting Member of the European Parliament on the MLP ticket, won the Leadership contest and was appointed Leader of the MLP. He took his seat in Parliament following the resignation of MP Joseph Cuschieri who resigned to make way for the new leader to take his seat in the Maltese Parliament. Dr Muscat was appointed Leader of the Opposition on the 1st October 2008.
On 4th April 2009, the Prime Minister Dr Lawrence Gonzi, communicated with the Leader of the Opposition Dr Joseph Muscat that he intended to appoint Dr George Abela as the next President of Malta. Dr. George Abela militated in the MLP and also contested the MLP leadership election of 2008. The Opposition approved such a step and Dr George Abela was appointed by Parliamentary resolution on the 1st April 2009. He took his oath of Office on the 4th April 2009.
The 11th Parliamentary Legislature (2008-2013) was filled with unexpected events which finally led to the disruption of parliamentary work with rebel government MPs voting against their own Government which had only a one seat majority thus ending its parliamentary life in December 2012 when one of the rebel MPs voted with the Opposition in a budget vote thus bringing the end to this parliamentary legislature. A Referendum for the introduction of divorce legislation was also requested by another rebel government MP through a private member's bill, and held; when this was not even on the electoral programmes of the two major political parties in Malta. The result of the Divorce Referendum was that out of a total voter turnout of 72% of those entitled to vote, the YES vote carried the day with 122,547 votes (52.6%) and the NO vote 107,971 votes (46.4%). Invalid votes were 2,173 (0.93%). And the law was approved in 2011.
Elections were held on 9th March 2013 and brought an earthquake to the PN Government which was routed by an 11 seat majority. Article 52 (1) of the Constitution of Malta once more had to bring proportionality to the new Parliamentary legislature by adding 4 seats to the PN Opposition thus the new 12th Legislature would be constituted with 39 seats for the Government (which now has an overall working majority) to the 29 seats for the Opposition. Former MEP Dr. Joseph Muscat, Leader of the Partit Laburista who took the helm of the Labour Party from Dr Alfred Sant in October 2008, was appointed Prime Minister of Malta at the young age of 39 years on the 11th March 2013. This is a historic victory for him personally and for the Labour Party as well which succeeded in routing completely the PN Government after 15-straight years in office.
Following this heavy defeat for the Nationalist Party, Dr. Lawrence Gonzi, Leader of the party assumed responsibility for this debacle and called it a day. He set the ball rolling for the appointment of a new leader of the party. Until such time as this Leader is appointed, Dr Gonzi will be the Leader of the Opposition. On 4th May 2013, the election for the new PN leader was held and out of four candidates, Raymond Bugeja, Mario de Marco, Francis Zammit Dimech and Simon Busuttil, the latter succeeded in obtaining 50%+ of the vote with Mario de Marco following next in line. Dr de Marco conceded and decided not to contest the next round of elections and Simon Busuttil obtained more than 90% of the councellers' vote, thus being declared as the next PN Leader on Wednesday 8th May 2013. On Monday 13th May 2013, Dr Simon Busuttil took the Oath as Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives.
The Leader of the Nationalist Party Dr Lawrence Gonzi announced his resignation from Member of the House of Representatives and following a casual election held on 30th July 2013, Mr. Antoine Borg was elected in his place. Mr. Borg took the Oath of Office on 30th September 2013.
On 1st April 2014, the Minister for the Family and Social Solidarity Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, resigned from the Cabinet and from the House of Representative to take up the position of Head of State of Malta. She took the Oath of Office of President of Malta on 4th April 2014. Following a casual election held on 16th April, Dr Charles Mangion (PL) was elected in her place as a Member of Parliament. He was sworn in as an MP on Wednesday 16th April 2014. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has also announced that the Hon. Karmenu Vella, who was Minister for Tourism and a Member of Parliament in this legislature, will be nominated for European Commissioner and thus he will have to resign from Member of Parliament in the near future. The Prime Minister also announced a reshuffle in his Cabinet of Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries following the resignation of the Hon Franco Mercieca who was Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry for the Family and Social Security, and the Hon. Dr. Godfrey Farrugia who was Minister for Health.
This reshuffle saw new faces appointed to the Cabinet: The Hon. Dr. Justyne Caruana, the Hon. Dr Chris Fearne and the Hon. Chris Agius, as Parliamentary Secretaries, while the Hon. Dr. Owen Bonnici, the Hon. Edward Zammit Lewis and the Hon. Dr. Michael Farrugia were promoted to Ministers. Other minor changes were made in the roles of Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries.
Another new change in the Cabinet was that of the Minister for Home Affairs and National Security. Following a shooting incident in which the security driver of Minister Manuel Mallia was involved, the Prime Minister revoked the appointment of the Hon. Manwel Mallia from Minister and appointed in his stead the Hon. Carmelo Abela as Minister for Home Affairs and National Security.
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last modified: April 2014