President of Malta is the constitutional head of state, elected by the House of Representatives for a five-year term. However, the President acts on the advice of the Prime Minister in most circumstances. The President appoints as Prime Minister the leader of the party with the majority of seats in the unicameral House of Representatives. While the President is responsible for the general direction and control of the Government of Malta, the Prime Minister is the head of government and the cabinet.
The House of Representatives consists of 65 Members of Parliament (MPs) elected from 13 multi-seat constituencies. The President also appoints, upon recommendation from the Prime Minister, individual Ministers, selected from the House of Representatives. A Speaker presides over the legislative body of the government. The Constitution defines the function and powers of the Parliament of Malta, including the power to legislate.
Parliamentary and government activities are centered in the capital city of Valletta.
Elections must be held every 5 years, if Parliament is not dissolved earlier. The electoral system is based on a single transferable vote, a variant of the proportional representation electoral system. First vacancies are filled through casual election, and subsequent vacancies through co-option. No by-elections are held between general elections. Maltese citizens aged 18 years of age or more have the right to vote.
Since Independence, the two main political parties in Malta are the Partit Nazzjonalista (PN – Nationalist Party) and the Partit Laburista (PL – Labour Party). Two other popular parties are Alternattiva Demokratika (Democratic Alternative – a Green party) and Azzjoni Nazzjonali (National Action). Elections in Malta generate a high voter turnout exceeding 90% of registered voters.
As per the Constitution of Malta, Malta is a neutral state, “actively pursuing peace, security and social progress among all nations by adhering to a policy of non-alignment and refusing to participate in any military alliance.” Thus, no foreign military bases are permitted on Malta, and no military facilities are allowed to be used by foreign forces except in exceptional cases.
The Constitution of Malta also sets out the religion of Malta as the Roman Catholic Apostolic Religion. According to the Constitution, the authorities of the Roman Catholic Church “have the duty and right to teach which principles are right and which are wrong.” Furthermore, the Constitution indicates that religious teaching is provided in all State schools as part of compulsory education.
The Constitution of Malta also outlines universal suffrage, human rights, labour laws, issues of social assistance and insurance, protection of artisan trades, encouragement of co-operatives, compulsory and free primary education, safeguarding of landscape and historical and artistic patrimony, citizenship, the composition of Malta’s judiciary and political systems, and the independence of Malta as a parliamentary democracy.
On 1 May 2004 Malta joined the EU. On 1 January 2008 Malta joined the Eurozone, adopting the Euro as the national currency, which replaced the Maltese Lira (Lm).
Malta has two levels of government: central (House of Representatives) and municipal (local councils). Malta has 68 local councils – 54 in Malta and 14 in Gozo.
Local councils are responsible for the administration of cities or regions of varying sizes, and are elected every three years in a proportional representation single transferable vote system. The Mayor is the head of the Council, while the Executive Secretary (appointed by the Council) is the executive, administrative, and financial head of the Council.
Local councils are responsible for the general upkeep of localities, embellishments such as gardens and parks, local wardens, refuse collection, the collection of rents and funds for the central government, and answering government-related public inquiries.
By Jess Gerrow, who traded city life in Canada for island life in the Mediterranean two years ago. She is a postgraduate marketing student, blogger, and freelance writer.