Malta's ruling Nationalists re-elected in tightest election ever
Malta's conservative Nationalist Party, in power in the tiny Mediterranean state for most of the past two decades, has won re-election in the country's closest ever polls, beating traditional rival Labour by less than one percent of the vote.
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, who presided over the country's entry into the European Union in 2004, is expected to pursue his pro-EU and open economic policies in the archipelago of some 400,000 people.
Deputy Labour leader Michael Falzon conceded defeat after a marathon vote tally finally gave the Nationalists an edge of 1,542 votes in the early hours of Monday, more than 24 hours after polls closed on Saturday.
It was the Nationalists' third consecutive victory over Labour, their perpetual rival since independence from Britain in 1964.
Nationalist party general secretary, Joe Saliba, confirmed that Labour contacted him shortly after counting finished to concede defeat.
"This was not a victory for the Nationalists but for all the people of Malta," he said.
The Nationalist Party won 49.3 percent of the vote, followed by 48.8 percent for Labour, 1.3 percent for the green Democratic Alternative, 0.5 percent for the right-wing National Action and 0.1 percent for independent candidates, according to unofficial results.
Nearly 300,000 people voted in the cliffhanger polls, which enjoyed a turnout of some 93 percent -- actually on the low side in the politically polarised nation.
In the hard-fought election campaign, Gonzi, 54, ran on economic achievements, while his challenger, Labour Party leader Alfred Sant, 60, pushed an anti-corruption platform.
Labour's allegations against ruling party figures during the campaign prompted numerous libel suits.