The island of Malta was settled sometime around 5,000 B.C. and has remained a strategic centre in the Mediterranean ever since.
Around 1,000 B.C. the Phoenicians arrived, intent on trade. They were followed by the Greeks around 800 B.C., the Carthaginians in 400 B.C. and the Romans in 218 B.C. Under the Romans the island prospered but, with the decline of Rome, Malta was invaded by the Vandals in 440 A.D. and then recovered by the Byzantines in 533.
In 870 it was the turn of the Fatimids, North African Arabs but coming from Sicily. The Fatimids lost Sicily to the Normans in 1130 and by 1194 Malta had become part of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily. The Fatimids are credited with being the creation of the Maltese language, a cross between Siculo-Arabic, Italian, a later injection of French and, of course, English.
The Normans were not that bothered about the island and tended to rent out parts to feudal Lords and eventually it came under the control of the Spanish.
With the Ottomans driving westwards, the King of Spain, Charles V, wanted to stop their expansion and prevent them from taking Rome; as a result he gave the island to the Knights Hospitaller in 1530. The Knights were a constant sore in the Ottoman side and as a result Suleiman the Magnificent decided to attack the island in 1565. The Knights inflicted terrible casualties against the Ottoman forces; the Ottomans eventually withdrew and never troubled the island again.
The Knights, also known as the Order of St John, made the island their own and held it until 1798 when the French forces of Napoleon Bonaparte attacked Malta. The occupation of Malta lasted for two years until the people of Malta decided to ask for help from the British. Rear Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson carried out a total blockade and the French garrison surrendered in 1800.
From 1800 onwards Malta became part of the British Empire. As early as 1849 there had been an elected legislative council, but after the First World War, in 1921, the Maltese asked for Home Rule. With the establishment of a National Assembly and later a Senate, this was granted and Joseph Howard became the island’s first Prime Minister.
World War Two saw perhaps the greatest heroic stand against an aggressor the people of Malta have ever faced. The island was pounded from the air and sea by Italian and German forces from June 1940 to August 1942, almost without any let-up.
On 15 April 1942, King George VI awarded the George Cross “to the island fortress of Malta, its people and defenders”. The King’s letter to the people stated “To honour her brave people, I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history”. The George Cross now forms part of the Maltese flag.
After the war, self-rule was reinstated by the British Colonial Authority and Sir Paul Boffa became Prime Minister from 1947 until 1950. By 1955 a meeting had been convened in London which was attended by the then Maltese Prime Minister, Dom Mintoff, and the British Colonial Secretary, Alan Lennox-Boyd. The offer was for Malta to have representation in the British House of Commons and self-rule over everything except defence, foreign policy and taxation. A subsequent referendum did not give approval to the idea and by 1959 an Interim Constitution allowed for an Executive Council under British rule.
The Maltese Government put forward another referendum and new constitution in 1964 which, in effect, gave the country independence. The referendum was narrowly passed and on 21st September 1964 Malta became an independent state as a constitutional monarchy, with Elizabeth II as its Head of State.
In the post-independence election in 1966, the Nationalist Party (PN) led by Giorgio Borg Olivier won the general election, taking 28 of the 50 seats in the National Assembly. They were defeated in 1971 by the Malta Labour Party (MLP) and, in addition to carrying out a series of nationalisations, the government of Dom Mintoff gained the agreement of the Nationalists that Malta should become a republic. On 13th December 1974 Malta became a republic and its first president was Sir Anthony Mamo. The Labour Party won two more consecutive elections, in 1976 and 1981 with 34 seats each time in a 65 seat parliament.
The Nationalists won in 1987 under the leadership of Edward Fenech Adami and remained in office until 1996. However their period out of office did not last long; Labour won the election in 1996 but were out by 1998, largely because of differences between Prime Minister Alfred Sant and former Prime Minister Dom Mintoff over European Union membership.
After that, the Nationalist Party secured the next three elections, taking 35 seats each time in 1998, 2003 and 2008. Edward Fenech Adami remained prime minister until 2004, when he was elected President of Malta and replaced as prime minister by Lawrence Gonzi.
The President is elected by a resolution of the House of Representatives for a five year term.
The unicameral House of Representatives has 65 members, elected by popular vote on the basis of proportional representation to serve five year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Malta at joint 47th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 55 (where 100 is least corrupt).