Island in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia, and north of Libya.
Government Malta is a multiparty liberal democracy, with a prime ministerial political executive. The 1974 constitution provides for a 65-member house of representatives, elected by universal suffrage, through a system of proportional representation using the single-transferable vote in multimember constituencies, for a five-year term. As formal head of state the president is elected by the house for a five-year term and appoints a prime minister and cabinet, drawn from and collectively responsible to the house, which may be dissolved within its five-year term. A 1987 amendment to the constitution made provision for any party winning more than 50% of the votes in a general election to be guaranteed a majority of seats in the house, through the award of bonus seats, regardless of the number of seats actually won. This has meant that the number of deputies has sometimes risen to 69. Two political parties, the Malta Labour Party (MLP) and the Nationalist Party (PN), have dominated Malta's politics.
History Malta was occupied in turn by Phoenicia, Greece, Carthage, and Rome, and fell to the Arabs in 870. In 1090 the Norman count Roger of Sicily conquered Malta, and it remained under Sicilian rule until the 16th century, when the Holy Roman emperor Charles V handed it over to the Knights of St John of Jerusalem in 1530. After a Turkish attack in 1565 the knights fortified the island and held it until 1798, when they surrendered to Napoleon. After requesting British protection, Malta was annexed by Britain in 1814 and became a leading naval base. A vital link in World War II, Malta came under heavy attack and was awarded the George Cross decoration.
The island was made self-governing in 1947, and in 1955 Dom Mintoff, leader of the MLP, became prime minister. In 1956 the MLP's proposal for integration with the UK was approved by a referendum but opposed by the conservative PN, led by Dr Giorgio Borg Olivier. In 1958 Mintoff rejected the British proposals and resigned, causing a constitutional crisis. By 1961 both parties favoured independence, and talks began 1962, when the PN and Borg Olivier won the general election.
Independence Malta became a fully independent state within the Commonwealth and under the British crown in 1964, having signed a ten-year military and economic aid treaty with the UK. In 1971 Mintoff and the MLP returned to power with a policy of international non-alignment. He declared the 1964 treaty invalid and began to negotiate a new arrangement for leasing the Maltese NATO base and obtaining the maximum economic benefit from it for his country.
Republican status agreed A seven-year agreement was signed in 1972. Malta became a republic in 1974, and in the 1976 general election the MLP was returned with a reduced majority.
The MLP again won a narrow majority in the House of Representatives in 1981, even though the PN had a bigger share of the popular vote. As a result, Nationalist representatives refused to take their seats for over a year. Relations between the two parties were also damaged by allegations of progovernment bias in the broadcasting service. At the end of 1984 Mintoff announced his retirement, and Dr Mifsud Bonnici succeeded him as MLP leader and prime minister.
Nationalist Party wins power In 1987, the PN won the general election and its leader, Edward Fenech Adami, became prime minister. Vincent Tabone was elected president 1989. In October 1990 Malta formally applied for European Community membership. In the 1992 general election the PN, under Prime Minister Adami, was returned for another term. Mifsud Bonnici succeeded Vincent Tabone as president in 1994.
Malta joins the EU The September 1998 general elections were again won by PN and Prime Minister Adami. He immediately renewed the island's application to join the European Union. In presidential elections in April 1999, Bonnici was succeeded as president by Guido de Marco, and in December 1999 the EU invited Malta to start negotiating for membership in February 2000. Malta became a member of the EU on 1 May 2004, with a 2003 referendum finding 54% of the population to be in favour of accession.
New Nationalist Party prime minister In March 2003 Adami resigned as prime minister, later becoming president, in April 2004. He was succeeded as PN leader and prime minister by Lawrence Gonzi, who also held the finance ministry portfolio (until 2009). Gonzi oversaw Malta's entry into the EU's eurozone, in January 2008, which involved the privatization of post, telecommunications, and shipbuilding and adoption of the euro as its currency. He went on to lead the PN to a narrow victory over the MLP, led by Alfred Sant, in the March 2008 general election. In April 2009, George Abela, from the opposition MLP, became president, with the support and nomination of prime minister Gonzi.
Following a referendum in May 2011, parliament passed legislation to allow divorce, making Malta the last European country to do so.
Labour back in power in 2013 Despite a diversified economy, based around trade, manufacturing, and tourism, Malta was adversely affected, like other EU members, by the global and eurozone financial crisis in 2008–12, with the economy contracting in 2009 and growth slow thereafter. In January 2012 the country's credit rating was downgraded by rating agencies as concerns over the government's finances mounted.
Gonzi resigned as prime minister in December 2012 after divisions within his party over the government's budget proposals. A general election was held in March 2013 and the Labour Party, led by the 39-year-old Joseph Muscat, won a landslide victory, with 39 of the 69 seats and 55% of the vote.
Grand Harbour, Malta
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