Malta votes in early elections tied to Panama Papers scandal

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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. 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.

Muscat called new elections and ordered a magisterial inquiry midway through Malta's first-ever stint at the presidency of the European Council after allegations surfaced in April that his wife also owned a company in Panama.

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.

"Personally I think that it is embarrassing.to say I come from a country going through these things at the moment", she told AFP.

Veterans of Malta's politics say most voters have life-long allegiances to one of the two main parties, which explains why Muscat appears to have been unscathed by the deluge of charges against people close to him.

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Official results from the vote have yet to be announced, but party supporters from all sides are following the count. Maltese voters cast ballots in a snap election today called by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who has sought to fend off corruption allegations levelled at his wife and associates with a campaign touting the island's solid economic performance.

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Busuttil has alleged that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat's chief of staff engaged in money laundering and receiving kickbacks.

Muscat, Schembri and Mizzi have all denied the claims and have begun legal action against the accusers. More than 340,000 people were eligible to vote in Saturday's poll. There are no exit polls and the counting of votes is to be carried out manually starting Sunday morning.

A total of 224 candidates stood for seats in the 65-member parliament.

Malta's prime minister claimed victory Sunday in early elections called to consolidate the government's position after his wife was implicated in the Panama Papers scandal, saying unofficial results indicate a "sizeable" win for his Labour Party.

A victory for the Labour Party will see it secure another five years at the helm; even if Muscat is subsequently toppled by the scandal, the party will maintain control of the executive branch until 2023.

After the publication of the Panama Papers a year ago, Muscat was criticized for retaining Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi and chief of staff Keith Schembri, whose names figured in the document dump.

Mr Muscat rejected opposition calls to step down and has described the allegations as "the mother of all lies".

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