Robert Abela was sworn in as prime minister on Monday afternoon, one day after he was crowned Labour Party leader. 

Dr Abela takes over from Joseph Muscat, who was named Labour leader in 2008 and became prime minister in 2013. 

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As it happened

That's all for today 

6.30pm We're wrapping up this live blog now. A reminder that Dr Abela is expected to address the nation at around 7.50pm. 

Thank you for having joined us. 


MPs trickle out of Castille 

6.20pm Robert Abela's first parliamentary group meeting as prime minister is over. Several MPs have been spotted exiting Castille.

In a brief statement, the Labour Party said that Dr Abela used the meeting to emphasise that the priority now was to get back to work. 


Abela to address the nation tonight

6.10pm Malta's new prime minister, Robert Abela, will address the nation in a televised address to be aired minutes before TVM's 8 o'clock news bulletin. 

Dr Abela is recording the message at this very moment. 


A group photo

5.57pm Chris Fearne was spotted leaving Castille minutes ago. He hopped into a car and was whisked away. 

Meanwhile, here's a group photo of Prime Minister Abela with his parliamentary group. Mr Fearne is front-and-centre. Konrad Mizzi and Ian Borg are way at the back - though they are admittedly Labour's tallest MPs. 

No sign of Joseph Muscat, who has said he will form part of Labour's backbench. And Labour Party president Daniel Micallef is, somewhat oddly, there too - he's fourth from right. 


Abela on Fearne

5.44pm Earlier on, Dr Abela reiterated his full confidence in Chris Fearne and said he had no intention of asking him to resign as his deputy. 

"Absolutely not," he said when asked if he expected Mr Fearne to resign. "I always said I was ready to work with Chris Fearne and I stand by that. I spoke to him earlier on and will see him later."

He also kept his cards close to his chest when asked what his immediate priorities are prime minister were. 

Here's video of that brief encounter with the media.

Robert Abela speaks to the press. Video: Matthew Mirabelli


Meanwhile, in court...

5.27pm Construction lobbyist Sandro Chetcuti and former police commissioner Ray Zammit both testified in court today, as part of a public inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. 

Mr Chetcuti told the inquiry he "never heard Muscat promise anything to anyone" and again denied he ever had an office at Labour Party headquarters.  

Mr Zammit said that during his time as commissioner, he had had not sensed that Ms Caruana Galizia was in any danger.


Abela meets with his MPs 

5.20pm The new prime minister will now meet with the Labour Party's parliamentary group inside Castille. Chris Fearne is among them. 

The PM will have to decide on his Cabinet in the next few days, and some MPs will be hoping they're in line for a ministerial promotion. 


Damned if you do, damned if you don't 

5.16pm Should Chris Fearne resign as deputy leader?  

The man who lost out to Robert Abela is also a deputy leader of the Labour Party. Alfred Grixti says he is stuck between a rock and a hard place. 

"If Mr Fearne resigns as deputy leader as a sign of prudence he would be perceived as being arrogant for not accepting the leadership contest result," he argues. 

"If he stays on he would be in line for accusations of putting spokes in the wheels."


Robert Abela at Castille 

5.11pm Robert Abela is at what is now his official office at Castille. Another small crowd greeted him outside with cheers and applause. 

Applause outside Castille. Video: Jessica Arena


EU Council president nudge

5.06pm EU Council president Charles Michel has tweeted his congratulations to Dr Abela, with a little nudge for good measure. 

"I welcome your determination to uphold the rule of law and work for unity," Mr Michel wrote. 


News wire boycott? 

5pm International news agency crews who made the trip to Malta for this afternoon's event are livid that they were denied entry into the room where Dr Abela was sworn in. They say they've never seen anything like it. 

We're hearing rumours that news wires like Reuters, AFP and AP - massive, global agencies - have jointly decided they will not publish official Department of Information photos, in protest. 


Should local parties organise hustings? 

4.55pm In some countries - the UK comes to mind -  candidates during party elections answer voters' questions at officially-organised events held behind closed doors. 

Should Malta also have hustings? Alfred Grixti, who serves as CEO of the Foundation of Social Welfare Services, thinks so. 

“Us PL members were not given the opportunity to have meetings with the two contestants, where we could directly ask them questions," he told us. 


Views from the crowd

4.50pm Our reporter Jessica Arena has been speaking to well-wishers in the Valletta crowd. 

Charles and Doreen from Valletta: "We didn’t really have a horse in this race but he’s all of our prime minister now and we hope he does a good job.

Most of all we hope to regain the stability that we had before these past few months and for the government to keep working as it was before."

Chantal from Senglea: "I’m here to keep showing support to Dr Abela. I think he was the right man for the job. Thanks to this government  I was able to go back to work and not worry about my child as a single mother. They made sure I was settled in and they really cared about what was best for my family. I think that’s a positive thing and I thought Robert was the best person to continue that legacy."

Janet Griffiths: "We’re very happy with the result, we wanted a young candidate and I think he’s going to achieve a lot. We’re here to give him the welcome he deserves. 

"I would like to see the strengthening of social services, and I want him to tackle the amount of foreigners in the country. We’re being overrun, I think it’s a big problem."

Smiles, hugs and selfies for Dr Abela. Photo: Matthew MirabelliSmiles, hugs and selfies for Dr Abela. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli
 

Chaotic scenes at the media pen 

4.45pm  All local and international journalists have been kept behind a barrier at the entrance of the palace, except for the Public Broadcasting Service.

Our reporter says that at one point the PBS began walking forward, and the barrier was breached as other journalists tried to get access to Dr Abela. It came down, as did laptops and bags, turning into chaotic scenes.

The international media have been complaining that they “had never seen anything of the sort”, our reporter on the ground says.


'We don't know what to expect' - Andrew Caruana Galizia

4.43pm One of Daphne Caruana Galizia's sons, Andrew, has spoken to the UK's The Guardian about Malta's new prime minister.

"We honestly don’t know what to expect from the new leader," he said. "We will be watching to see what he does and we will probably know within the first few days whether he will really break with Joseph Muscat’s legacy or seeks to protect it."


Malta's bishops congratulate Abela

4.36pm In a statement, Malta's bishops expressed their best wishes and blessings to the new Prime Minister. They reiterated their commitment that the various initiatives and cooperation between Church and State, "continue in a spirit of respect for reciprocal autonomy and mutual collaboration for the common good".


Chris Fearne at Castille 

4.31pm We're told Chris Fearne, who skipped the swearing-in ceremony, is at the Office of the Prime Minister and waiting for Robert Abela to arrive.

Malta's new Prime Minister Dr Abela told journalists that he had no intention of asking Mr Fearne to resign as deputy prime minister.

"Absolutely not," he said in reply to a question to that effect. 

"Chris and I have been in regular contact and we will meet later." 

Dr Abela declined to comment when asked why Mr Fearne had not made it to the swearing-in ceremony. 

"You'd have to ask him," he said with a smile. 


A sceptical EPP leader 

4.28pm Manfred Weber, who leads the European People's Party, notes Muscat's resignation but says "the unresolved murder of #DaphneCaruanaGalizia still casts a dark shadow over the government."


New PM, old PA 

4.24pm We can reveal Ray Barbara, who served as personal assistant to Joseph Muscat, will retain that role under Robert Abela. 

Ray Barbara (left) behind Joseph Muscat. Mr Barbara will serve as Robert Abela's PA.Ray Barbara (left) behind Joseph Muscat. Mr Barbara will serve as Robert Abela's PA.


Congratulations for the new PM 

4.20pm Lobbyists and unions have been congratulating Dr Abela over the past 24 hours. 

The Malta Developers Association said it hoped the new PM would immediately get to work to "normalising the political situation" in Malta. 

The GRTU - Malta Chamber of SMEs have said it is time to start a new chapter and called for immediate work to introduce reform to improve transparency, accountability and meritocracy. 

The Malta Chamber of Commerce has also called for "a thorough clean-up" and said it would be presenting its proposals to the new PM next week. 

They're not the only organisations to have sent in statements: hotel and restaurant owners (MHRA), the General Workers' Union, Malta Union of Teachers, FORUM and Malta Dockers' Union are among others.

From further ashore, Council of Europe parliamentary assembly member Peter Omtzigt has congratulated Dr Abela and said he looks forward to meeting with him to discuss rule of law reform. 

“With a new government, there is hope that Malta can bring an end to the damaging recent tensions and start to rebuild its reputation abroad," he said. 

Mr Omtzigt, who authored a report which was harshly critical of the Maltese government's rule of law slippage, had openly clashed with the Muscat government. 


Wave to the crowd 

4.05pm Robert Abela and his family have made an appearance at the Palace balcony. 

Cheers from the crowd, with chants of "Viva l-Labour" and "Robert tagħna l-mexxej" ['Our Robert is the leader']. 

Robert Abela and his family wave to the crowd.


A smiling Gafà 

4pm Earlier, we reported that Neville Gafà was one of the people inside the room where Dr Abela was sworn in as Prime Minister.  

We now have a photo of him entering the Palace before the ceremony. He looks chuffed. 


A father's advice

3.46pm What does president emeritus George Abela think his son should do, now that he is prime minister? 

We asked him earlier today, and here is what he told us.


'Robert, Robert' 

3.41pm Crowds waiting outside are following the swearing-in ceremony on a big screen set up in St George's Square. 

They applaud as he is made prime minister, with some cheering "Robert, Robert". 

Crowds outside cheer Robert Abela's swearing-in as prime minister.


Robert Abela is Malta's prime minister

3.38pm The 42-year-old lawyer reads out his oath, kisses the cross and signs on the dotted line.

Malta has a new prime minister. 

Applause all round.Applause all round.


Repubblika tempers its language

3.35pm NGO Repubblika furrowed some brows earlier today when they said they endorsed a crude (and crudely-scrawled) spray-painted note saying Robert Abela "is dogshit on the path". 

We reached out to them for comment, and a spokesman said they did not mean to cause offence. 

"Our reading of the graffitti was not that Robert Abela is dogshit. But that his election is the product of Joseph Muscat’s strategic retreat as a way of throwing obstacles at our effort to secure truth and justice," they said. 


Where's Chris Fearne?

3.19pm Earlier today, we reported that Chris Fearne was not taking calls from his party colleagues, one day after he failed to make an appearance for Dr Abela's maiden speech as Labour Party leader. 

It appears he has not made it to Dr Abela's swearing-in ceremony, either.


'I'm emotional'

3.14pm Robert Abela gave a 10-second comment to national broadcaster TVM. 

"I'm feeling emotional," he told TVM's Ruth Castillo. 

Dr Abela is now making his way to the swearing-in ceremony.  


Robert Abela arrives 

3.11pm Robert Abela has arrived at St George's Square and is greeting supporters. He's joined by his wife Lydia and young daughter.

Robert Abela greets well-wishers. Video: Jessica Arena


What does the Constitution say? 

3.06pm According to the Maltese Constitution, it is the President who is responsible for appointing a prime minister and cabinet of ministers. 

The prime minister must be the person who the president believes "is best able to command the support of a majority of the members" of parliament. Ministers are appointed on the prime minister's recommendation. 

Here's the relevant article: 

80. Wherever there shall be occasion for the appointment of a Prime Minister, the President shall appoint as Prime Minister the member of the House of Representatives who, in his judgment, is best able to command the support of a majority of the members of that House and shall, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, appoint the other Ministers from among the members of the House of Representatives.


Neville Gafà sticks around 

2.59pm A source inside the room where Dr Abela will be sworn in as prime minister tells us that Neville Gafà is there. 

Mr Gafà is a close confidant of Keith Schembri, the former OPM chief of staff who is under investigation in connection with the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. 

Mr Gafà was also sacked by the man Dr Abela beat to win the Labour Party leadership, Chris Fearne, and was among the first to celebrate Dr Abela's victory on Saturday night, posting a single word - "Continuity" - on his Facebook page. 

Neville Gafà. Photo: FacebookNeville Gafà. Photo: Facebook


A different setup for media 

2.55pm The media is not allowed into the room where Dr Abela will be sworn in. A spokesperson at the Office of the President tells us it's because ongoing restoration works have forced them to hold the event in a different room. 

The press has instead been placed in a makeshift press centre in the Palace courtyard. 

Read the full article about the change of venue. 


JobsPlus boss to be new OPM chief of staff 

2.45pm We can reveal that Clyde Caruana, who heads government job agency JobsPlus, has been picked to be Robert Abela's chief of staff. 

Read the full article.


George Abela arrives 

2.36pm President emeritus George Abela is outside the Palace. Prime Minister-elect Robert Abela is his son, you will recall.

The former president said he had urged his son to keep his feet firmly on the ground but said that he was struck by how warmly he had been welcomed since being named Labour leader early on Sunday morning. 

President emeritus George Abela greets the crowd. Photo: Matthew MirabelliPresident emeritus George Abela greets the crowd. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli


Three cheers for Konrad

2.29pm Some ministers have started to make their way to the Palace in Valletta for Dr Abela's swearing-in. 

Ian Borg, Joe Mizzi, Edward Zammit Lewis and Konrad Mizzi were all spotted walking in. Justyne Caruana and Chris Cardona have also been seen there. 

Konrad Mizzi, who in 2016 was caught having opened a secret offshore structure while in office, got the biggest cheer of all.

Chris Cardona waves to the crowd.Chris Cardona waves to the crowd.


Why and how did Abela win? 

2.25pm The Labour Party's internal polls all had Chris Fearne in the lead until the final days of the leadership race. 

But Dr Abela's grassroots campaign ended up defying the odds and winning him the race.

Keith Micallef analyses some of the reasons why he won it


Muscat tenders his resignation as PM 

2.08pm Dr Muscat was spotted entering the Grandmaster's Palace in St George's Square, where he will be handing in his resignation as prime minister to president George Vella. 

A small crowd of Labour supporters stood outside to cheer him on. 

Robert Abela is due to take his oath of office there at 3pm. 


Goodbye, Joseph

2pm Joseph Muscat has just left Castille for the last time as prime minister. He was accompanied by his wife Michelle, with OPM staff lining the stairs to give him his final sendoff. 


Welcome

1.58pm Good afternoon, and welcome to this live blog. We'll be providing you with a running commentary of events throughout the afternoon, as Robert Abela takes his oath of office as prime minister. 

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