VALLETTA - Malta's ruling Labour Party on Sunday claimed an unexpectedly strong victory in the European elections with a majority of almost 54 percent, surprising its own leader, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.
The European Parliament elections, which conclude on Sunday, are expected to confirm the dominance of pro-European Union centrists despite a rise in support for the far-right and left.
Muscat said that the result was better than expected and that it was the first time in Malta that a ruling party had won a European Parliament election.
"It is a great victory but a humbling result," he said in a radio interview.
"The result is a massive vote of confidence in the government, and encouragement for us to work at 200 percent."
Muscat was elected in March last year in similarly strong victory over the opposition Nationalist Party. Its leader Simon Busuttil conceded defeat on Sunday.
Since being elected, Muscat has piloted a range of reforms including a law to recognise same-sex partnerships on a legal par with marriage. He has also delivered on a central election pledge to reduce electricity tariffs by at least 25 percent.
Malta elects six candidates to the European Parliament. It was not clear yet how the seats would be shared between the parties.
The European Parliament has said it will announce preliminary results shortly after 2100 GMT on Sunday. Final results and the precise allotment of seats in parliament is expected to be announced by the end of Monday.
(Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)