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Malta Government

Under its 1964 constitution, Malta became a parliamentary democracy within the Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II was Malta's sovereign, and a governor general exercised executive authority on her behalf, while the actual direction and control of the government and the nation's affairs were in the hands of the cabinet under the leadership of a Maltese prime minister. On December 13, 1974, the constitution was revised, and Malta became a republic within the Commonwealth, with executive authority vested in a Maltese president. The president is appointed by parliament. In turn, he generally appoints as prime minister the leader of the party that wins a majority of seats in a general election for the unicameral House of Representatives.

The president also nominally appoints, upon recommendation of the prime minister, the individual ministers to head each of the government departments. The cabinet is selected from among the members of the House of Representatives, the number of which may vary between 65 and 69 members elected on the basis of proportional representation. The constitution provides for general elections to be held at least every 5 years. Candidates are elected by the Single Transferable Vote system, where the surplus votes of an elected candidate are transferred to the candidate receiving the second preference votes. The process of vote transfers continues until all five candidates for a district are elected.

Two parties dominate Malta's polarized and evenly divided politics--the Nationalist Party, led by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, and the Malta Labor Party. In 2008, the Malta Labor Party renamed itself simply the Labor Party (Partit Laburista (PL)) and chose a new leader, former European Parliament member Joseph Muscat. Elections invariably generate a widespread voter turnout; in March 2008 the turnout was 93%. The margin between the two parties is so narrow that a 52% share of the votes is considered a "landslide" for the winning party. In the March 2008 elections, the Nationalist Party won reelection with 49.3% of the vote, earning it 35 seats, while the Labor Party received 48.8% of the vote (and 34 seats). While the two main parties dominate, two other parties were on the ballot in 2008, Alternative Demokratika (Green Party) and Azzjoni Nazzjonali (National Action--which since then has disbanded as a political party and become a registered non-governmental organization); neither managed to secure a seat in parliament.

In the second round of European Parliament elections, held in June 2009, five seats were won by the two incumbent Nationalist Party candidates (aligned with the European Peoples Party - EPP) and three Labor Party candidates (aligned with the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats - SD), including the two Labor incumbents. A fourth Labor candidate also was elected and will be seated once changes in the EU structure brought about by the Lisbon Treaty are fully implemented and Malta thereby receives a sixth seat in the European Parliament.

Malta's judiciary is independent. The chief justice and 20 judges, one of whom is currently serving in an international court, are appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister after consultation with the leader of the opposition. Their mandatory retirement age is 65. The highest court, the Constitutional Court, hears appeals in cases involving violations of human rights, interpretation of the constitution, and invalidity of laws. It also has jurisdiction in cases concerning disputed parliamentary elections and electoral corrupt practices. The court of appeal hears appeals from the civil court and various boards and tribunals, including the Industrial, Small Claims, and Consumers' Tribunal, a court of criminal appeal and a criminal court, where a presiding judge sits with a jury of nine. The court of criminal appeal hears appeals from those convicted by the criminal court. There is also a juvenile court. There are also inferior courts presided over by a magistrate.

The Local Councils Act, 1993, which was drawn up on the European Charter of Local Self-Government, divided Malta into 67 (later 68) localities; 14 are in the smaller island of Gozo. Councilors are elected every 3 years by inhabitants who are registered as voters in the Electoral Register. Recent changes to the legislation will gradually increase the councils life span by 1 year with elections being held every 4 years. Provisions in the law were also made for communities, with elected representatives, to be established within localities and for an elected chairperson to sit in on council meetings.

Local council elections are held by means of the system of proportional representation using the single transferable vote. The mayor is the head of the local council and the representative of the council for all effects under the act. The executive secretary, who is appointed by the council, is the executive, administrative, and financial head of the council. All decisions are taken collectively with the other members of the council. Local councils are responsible for the general upkeep and embellishment of the locality, local wardens, and refuse collection; they carry out general administrative duties for the central government, such as collection of government rents and funds and answering government-related public inquiries. The act also provides for councils to make, amend and revoke bye-laws as necessary for the better execution of the councils' functions and to improve the localities' environment.

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Page last modified: 28-11-2011 14:46:56 ZULU