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The Latest: Malta voter turnout at 92 percent

Associated Press logo Associated Press 3/06/2017

VALLETTA, Malta — The Latest on the national election in Malta (all times local):

12 a.m.

Malta's electoral commission says 92 percent of the island nation's 340,000 eligible voters cast their ballots in an early general election.

That is 1 percentage point lower than the 93 percent cast in 2013, but maintains the island's high voter turnout above 90 percent for the past half-century.

Pre-election surveys showed Prime Minister Muscat as a favorite to win a second, five-year mandate. But the same polls had one-fifth of the population not declaring how they would vote, giving the National Force made up of the Nationalist Party and the newly formed Democratic Party a chance.

The elections were called a year earlier than scheduled after allegations Muscat's wife Michelle owned a company related to the Panama Papers scandal led to a magisterial investigation.

Results are expected Sunday.

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10:30 p.m.

Malta's president is calling for reconciliation following an election campaign marred by what she calls "aggressive and abusive language."

President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca spoke to the country after polls closed at 10 p.m. and said abuse started on social media and continued at workplaces, schools and entertainment venues. She says it led to "disrespect" between neighbours, friends and relatives.

She said she wants "to see people returning to open dialogue, which is the basis of a healthy democracy".

The president added: "We remain one people and one nation. Let us unite again."

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4:45 p.m.

Malta's electoral commission says more than half of the island nation's 340,000 eligible voters have cast ballots in an early general election.

The commission said turnout was 52 percent with eight hours to go before polls closed at 10 p.m. Saturday.

Surveys showed Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was likely to win a second, five-year term.

But polls indicated one-fifth of voters were undecided going into the election, giving the National Force made up of the Nationalist Party and newly formed Democratic Party a slight chance to put Muscat's Labour Party out of power.

Muscat called snap elections a year early following an investigation into allegations his wife owned a company related to the Panama Papers scandal.

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10:05 a.m.

The prime challenger to Malta's prime minister in the country's early election has used the Panama Papers scandal to argue that change is needed to root out government corruption.

Nationalist leader Simon Busuttil has argued in the campaign leading up to Saturday's election that accusations of corruption had hurt Malta's financial services industry and would continue to damage the island's reputation.

Busuttil has alleged that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat's chief of staff engaged in money laundering and receiving kickbacks. The chief of staff, Keith Schembri, denies wrongdoing. A magisterial inquiry of the allegations is ongoing.

Schembri also turned up in the Panama Papers document dump as having acquired a company in Panama along with Malta's energy minister.

Voting takes place all day Saturday. There are no exit polls and the counting of votes is to be carried out manually starting Sunday morning. Results are expected later Sunday.

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9:10 a.m.

Maltese voters are heading to the polls a year early after Prime Minister Joseph Muscat called snap elections following an investigation into allegations his wife owned a company related to the Panama Papers scandal.

Surveys show Labour's Muscat is likely to win a second, five-year term Saturday. But polls indicated one-fifth of voters were undecided, giving the National Force, made up of the Nationalist Party and newly formed Democratic Party, a slight chance.

The Panama Papers scandal, which detailed offshore companies and other financial data of the rich and powerful, exposed Malta's energy minister and Muscat's chief of staff as having acquired a company in Panama.

Muscat called new elections and ordered a magisterial inquiry after allegations surfaced that his wife also owned a company in Panama. They deny wrongdoing.

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