The Republic of Malta is a single-chamber parliamentary republic. The Global State of Democracy Indices (GSoDI) describe Malta as an overall high-performing democracy, barring Checks on Government and Impartial Administration, which perform at a mid-range level. However, the 2017 assassination of the investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia rattled the foundation of the Maltese state and threatened the country’s high performance levels. It also resulted in the 2019 political crisis, which included public demands for responses to government corruption and money laundering. Since, Malta has shown an improvement in Checks on Government, particularly in the sub-attribute of Judicial Independence. The archipelago has a service-based, advanced economy, with its competitive tax environment and multilingual population making the country highly attractive to foreign investment. Malta is part of the European Union (EU) and the eurozone, alongside the United Nations and the Commonwealth of Nations following its independence from the United Kingdom in 1964.
Since the emergence of the Maltese two-party system in the 1970s, the country has been characterized by high political polarization, broadly divided into a conservative and religious elite, on the one hand, and a nascent liberal and anti-clerical counter-elite on the other. The cleavage is reflected in the two main political parties (the Nationalist Party and the Malta Labour Party) and the strong partisan mentality, which has divided the Maltese population and created a corrosive political environment. This is also perpetuated by the government’s capacity to dominate the political arena due to the country’s size and the prevalence of clientelism. Additionally, Malta faces serious corruption challenges and is economically reliant on an ecosystem in which corruption can thrive, for instance through its passport sale scheme that has long been criticized by civil society. The country is also struggling with its evolving and more diverse Maltese identity since joining the EU in 2004. The EU membership introduced a shift from a strong insular, traditional and national identity to a more regional, Mediterranean and European one. As Malta’s foreign-born population grows, migration policy that addresses both legal and illegal migration continues to be a political concern.
There have been various attempts to improve tools of governance such as constitutional reforms and reforms against corruption, although it is particularly in Impartial Administration and Checks on Government where weaknesses remain. To reinvigorate parliament, one important development is the discussion about shifting from a part-time to full-time parliament to spur legislative progress, in combination with additional reforms geared towards improving women’s parliamentary representation. In recent years, Malta has addressed deficiencies in tackling financial crime, as highlighted by the G7 initiative Financial Action Task Force and has managed to be removed from its grey list. The Maltese financial system, however, continues to be monitored closely and has room to improve in fundamental aspects such as transparency, accountability and good governance. Press freedom is an urgent concern, and Media Integrity and Freedom of Expression may continue to suffer unless the country starts implementing the recommendations resulting from the 2021 public inquiry. Malta also faces serious environmental policy challenges such as water scarcity and pollution. To include those particularly affected and formulate effective responses to these challenges, Civil Society Participation and Representative Government will be particularly fundamental in the years to come.