Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat resigned Monday, handing over to Labour Party colleague Robert Abela, who promised better times without mentioning either the murder of a blogger or the corruption the slain reporter highlighted before paying with her life.
Abela, 42, won a solid 58 percent in a weekend party vote to succeed 45-year-old Muscat, who announced last month he was cutting short a mandate running to September 2022 owing to the public blowback surrounding the 2017 car bomb death of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The government investigation into the killing of the anti-corruption campaigner caused a storm and Muscat bowed out after finding himself confronted with ever growing public protests which started out monthly then became a daily occurrence.
After taking the oath of office, Abela promised to “improve the quality of life” for Maltese but had no comment either on the killing of Caruana Galizia, known as a “one-woman WikiLeaks,” or the corruption she denounced.
Three men are on trial for allegedly detonating the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia. A fourth — powerful businessman Jorgen Fenech — was charged as an accomplice after being detained as he tried to leave the country on his yacht.
Demonstrators forced out Muscat, accusing him notably of shielding his chief of staff and childhood friend Keith Schembri, who has been implicated in the murder.
Fenech’s arrest in November sparked the resignation of tourism minister Konrad Mizzi, who formerly served as energy minister, and Schembri.
Caruana Galizia accused both Mezzi and Schembri of corruption.
Abela has promised to uphold the rule of law, but Caruana Galizia’s sister Corinne Vella earlier remarked to AFP in an interview: “How can you have good governance and you’re taking the place of a man who’s leaving because of a murder?”
She added that Malta’s criminal justice system is “broken”.
After Muscat formally handed over to Abela, some party supporters were in tears as he left the Castille palace which houses the Maltese government.
Handshakes, selfies, hope
Around 200 people gathered nearby to salute Abela as he emerged to shake hands and pose for selfies with lawyer wife Lidia and their daughter Giorgia, seven.
“I just hope that he will be an alright person, and that he will do some good for Malta, right? We look forward and we move forward. Let’s see,” Mario, a barworker, told AFP.
Housewife Natalia Busuttil said she hoped Abela would lift the wages of the least well-off in the half million-strong island.
“Now, I am relieved that we have change. Because with the things that were happening in Malta, Malta was not in a good state. So, I think it is a good change now,” Busuttil said, adding the government had not delivered either on tackling corruption or low wages.
“I think there are a lot of problems, some people say that there aren’t, but if you measure things, there are.
“In this person, Robert Abela, I believe. I like how he talks, how he expresses himself, and I hope for the good of Malta”.