Voters are going to the polls in Malta in early elections forced by allegations of corruption against the government. The vote comes toward the end of Malta's six-month presidency of the EU.
Maltese citizens voted on Saturday in elections called almost a year before they were due, with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat forced to seek a new mandate amid corruption allegations leveled not only at his chief of staff and a minister, but his wife as well.
The vote pits Muscat's Labour Party against the center-right Nationalist Party under Simon Busuttil. The latest polls show the ruling party, which has been in power since a landslide election victory in 2013, with a 5-percent lead over its challenger, though some 22 percent of respondents were undecided.
Muscat, 43, under whose governance Malta has remained one of the best-performing economies in the EU, says he called the election to dissipate economic uncertainty.
Looming corruption accusations
However, his government has been under fire after his chief of staff and a government minister admitted having previously undeclared Panama-registered companies following their exposure in last year's massive data leak from the Mossack Fonseca legal firm based in the Central American country.
The Nationalist Party has also produced documents that it says show that chief of staff Keith Schembri received kickbacks from a controversial cash-for-passports scheme, while Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi is reported to have benefited personally from a power station project. Muscat, Schembri and Mizzi have strongly rejected the claims.
Muscat's wife, Michelle, has also been accused of being the beneficial owner of a secret Panamanian shell company used to bank unexplained payments from Azerbaijan's ruling family.
The polls opened at 7 a.m. (0500 UTC) and were to close at 10 p.m. Turnout in Malta is normally above 90 percent.
Votes in the election will be counted by hand - a system that is to be phased out following this election - meaning that first results are not expected until midday on Sunday.
tj/jlw (dpa, AFP)