Malta's PM wins snap election despite scandal
As his Labour supporters took to the streets to celebrate, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said: "It is clear that the people have chosen to stay the course."
"The people have clearly chosen to stay on the road to even greater results," Muscat said, referring to the strong performance of the Mediterranean island's economy since his term began in 2013.
Nationalist Party rival Simon Busuttil conceded defeat on Twitter. "I have just called Joseph Muscat to concede," he wrote. "As always, we respect the decision of the electorate."
Official election results have yet to be announced, but supporters of all parties are following the count. Muscat's Labour Party had polled about five percentage points ahead of its rival going into Saturday's election.
The victory means that there will be no major disruption to the business of the European Union, whose rotating presidency Malta holds until the end of June.
Elections weren't scheduled until 2018, but Muscat, 43, called the snap election last month as political pressure grew on his family and associates. His wife was implicated in one of a series of alleged corruption cases arising from the Panama Papers scandal.
Allegations of money laundering
Muscat ordered a magisterial inquiry after allegations surfaced in April that his wife owned a company in Panama. Setting up an offshore company is not illegal or evidence of illegal conduct, but shell companies can be used to avoid taxes or launder money.
The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing and has vowed to resign if evidence emerges of his family's having secret offshore bank accounts used for stashing kickbacks.
Muscat has also come under fire for failing to sack two of his associates after they admitted their ties to the organization at the center of the Panama Papers scandal.
Muscat's chief of staff, Keith Schembri, and government minister, Konrad Mizzi, were forced to admit to having undeclared offshore companies set up for them by the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.
But, with Malta's economy booming and the lowest unemployment rate that the country of 430,000 people has ever known, the scandals did not deter Labour's loyal base of supporters.
The election commission put turnout at 92 percent of the more than 340,000 eligible voters.
Shortly after polls closed, President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca called for a process of reconciliation to begin after what she called a campaign full of "aggressive and abusive language."
"I want to see people returning to open dialogue," Preca said, "which is the basis of a healthy democracy."
bik/mkg (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)