Political newcomer to become Malta's prime minister

Robert Abela is the son of a former Maltese President

Labour party leader candidates Chris Fearne (L) and Robert Abela (R) wave to delegates prior to Malta's outgoing Prime Minister and outgoing Labour party leader deliver his final speech as PM on January 10, 2020 in Paola, Malta, before standing down over a slain reporter scandal. Outgoing prime minister Joseph Muscat, who has been accused of obstructing justice by protecting political allies and aides, within a scandal-dogged probe into the murder of investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia, is bowing out of the political limelight. A new leader of the labour party is to be elected on January 11 and then sworn in shortly after as new Prime Minister. / AFP / Matthew Mirabelli
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The son of a former President of Malta is set to become the country's new Prime Minister after being elected as leader of the ruling Labour Party on Saturday.

Robert Abela, who was only voted into parliament in 2017, won 58 per cent of the poll of some 17,500 members of the party.

He was up against Chris Fearne, 56, the deputy prime minister and minister of health, who had been the initial favourite to win.

Incumbent Joseph Muscat is stepping down as leader amid claims that he protected associates who had links to people allegedly involved in the 2017 murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

He Muscat announced his resignation on December 1, saying he would quit once a new Labour leader was elected.

Mr Abela, 42, a lawyer specialising in industrial and labour law, was elected to parliament for the first time just over two years ago. Muscat appointed him a consultant, enabling him to attend Cabinet meetings.

"I am humbled" he told supporters. "I thank my friend Chris (Fearne) and look forward to working together for the good of the party and the country. There is only one winner today, the Labour Party."

Mr Abela has said he will place increased government focus on social issues and affordable housing. He also promised to give free medicines to all pensioners within five years. During the campaign, however, he avoided interviews with the independent press.

His father, George Abela, was deputy leader of the Labour Party until 1998 and had contested the party leadership election which saw Muscat become party leader in 2008. He later served as president of Malta.

Mr Muscat in a tweet said he was proud to hand over to Mr Abela. He said he would formally resign as prime minister on Monday.

He has said he will stay on in parliament and promote civil rights reform. He also intends working on a project to raise the level of Malta sports athletes.