A first-term member of parliament whose father was Malta’s president will be sworn in as the country’s prime minister on January 13, replacing Joseph Muscat amid a crisis over the murder of a journalist who investigated corruption in his government.
Eligible members of the ruling Labor Party on January 11 cast 58 percent of their ballots for 42-year-old Robert Abela, who is a trained lawyer specializing in labor and industrial law, as well as a former bodybuilder.
The outgoing prime minister promised to resign in December after protests demanded his ouster over an investigation into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017 while she was investigating graft among the upper echelons of the Mediterranean country’s government and business community.
During his victory speech, Abela promised to repair the country’s reputation.
"Malta is not going through any tragedy, but it is going through a sensitive time from which it will emerge stronger," Abela said. "We will continue to strengthen rule of law and good governance.”
An influential businessman with alleged links to government officials was charged with complicity in Galizia's murder on November 30.
The suspect, Yorgen Fenech, pleaded not guilty to that and other charges.
He was charged after prosecutors refused his request for immunity from prosecution in return for revealing details of the murder plot.
Implicated in the crime are Muscat’s former chief-of-staff and a former tourism minister, among others.
Both men resigned late in 2019 and deny any wrongdoing, including having business links with Fenech.
Three other men are in custody for carrying out the murder -- they, two brothers and a friend, were arrested in December 2017 and have pleaded not guilty.
Alfred and George Degiorgio and Vincent Muscat were paid 150,000 euros ($165,000) for the killing, according to Reuters.
The head of Reporters Without Borders in Britain, Rebecca Vincent, told AFP that Abela "has his work cut out for him" and promised she and other human rights campaigners would "hold this administration to account in ensuring full justice for Daphne [Caruana Galizia]."
Malta is the EU’s smallest member state.