Changing of political guard in Malta aims to rebuild trust

Changing of political guard in Malta aims to rebuild trust
FILE - In this Thursday, June 20, 2019 file photo, Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat arrives for an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels. Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said Sunday Dec. 1, 2019, that he would resign in January following pressure from citizens for the truth about the 2017 car bombing that killed a journalist. (Julien Warnand/Pool via AP, File)

VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — Contenders to be Malta’s next leader are pledging to restore the country’s reputation abroad as the beleaguered prime minister of the European Union member nation prepares to step down.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was set to deliver his final address to the nation Friday evening. Muscat announced last month that he would resign as leader of the Labor Party and prime minister amid demands for accountability in the assassination of an investigative journalist.

A deputy premier and a lawmaker are vying to replace him. The one picked to be Labor’s new leader in a party election on Saturday becomes prime minister, and Muscat will step aside.

Both candidates say they’ll work to regain the Maltese people’s confidence in their government by upholding the rule of law. Angry citizens pressured Muscat to resign after his office was linked to the car-bomb killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia, whose anti-corruption reporting targeted members of the government.

Concerned European Union lawmakers who visited Malta after the journalist’s slaying expressed concerns about the functioning of the tiny island nation’s police and judicial systems.

In late November, days before Muscat announced he was stepping down both as party leader and prime minister, his chief of staff, Keith Schembri, was arrested and questioned in connection with Caruana Galizia’s killing.

Schembri was later released but remains under investigation.