Malta’s new prime minister has promised to strengthen the rule of law on the tiny island nation, following the resignation of his predecessor whose top adviser has been linked to the car bomb murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Lawmaker Robert Abela was sworn in as the country’s new prime minister at a ceremony on Monday. His predecessor, Joseph Muscat, resigned shortly beforehand, after six years in the role.
Abela defeated Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne in a Labor Party leadership ballot on Sunday. The son of a former Maltese Prime Minister, he has little political experience. He is a first-term lawmaker, who was elected to Parliament in 2017.
Abela vowed that he would strengthen the rule of law in the country, according to local media, while steering clear of addressing the probe into Caruana Galizia’s killing. He has
also promised to focus on social issues.
The Times of Malta reported that international news agencies were furious at being denied access to his swearing-in ceremony.
One of Caruana Galizia’s sons, Andrew, told The Guardian that Abela was a political unknown who had just days to prove whether he would break with Muscat’s legacy, or seek to defend it.
Former Prime Minister Muscat had been under increasing pressure to resign as the investigation into the journalist’s murder edged closer and closer to his office. In November, prosecutors questioned his chief of staff, Keith Schembri, as well as former Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, who was a senior member of Muscat’s cabinet until his sudden resignation over the murder probe.
Andrew Caruana Galizia said that among the early “tests” Abela would face was whether he would try to revive Mizzi’s political career.
Following weeks of protests and uncertainty, Muscat announced his own resignation in December, but said he would stay on as leader until his party elected a replacement.
Three men are on trial for Caruana Galizia’s murder, but the investigation continues to search for those responsible for ordering the killing.
A number of European parliamentarians greeted the news cautiously, according to news outlet Deutsche Welle.
The European Parliament, spurred by concerns over the murder investigation, sent an emergency delegation to monitor the rule of law in Malta late last year. Chair of the delegation, Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, told Deutsche Welle that she hoped Abela would not continue in the same vein as his predecessor, and urged the country to follow up on the delegation’s recommendations.