As expected, Malta’s election at the weekend resulted in defeat for the centre-right government of Lawrence Gonzi. The opposition Labour Party won a big majority and its leader, Joseph Muscat, has been sworn in as prime minister.

With 54.8% of the vote – its best result since 1955 – Labour won 39 seats to the Nationalist Party’s 28. At least that’s according to Wikipedia, since the Maltese government doesn’t seem to have published a summary of seats. (The summary of votes is here, although it’s in Maltese.) There are only 65 constituency seats, but the Nationalists may be awarded extra seats to avoid under-representation (if you want to know why, you can read the convoluted second proviso to section 52(1) of the Maltese constitution).

Once again, almost everyone voted for one of the two major parties. Minor parties and independents had less than 2% of the vote between them, almost all of that for the Democratic Alternative, Malta’s Green party. With 1.8% the Greens had their best-ever result, but were still not really in contention for a seat.

Malta is only small, but it’s another step forward for Europe’s left. Assuming Pier Luigi Bersani takes office in Italy, the left will be in office in nine of the 27 EU countries, the first time it’s done so well since early 2010.

When the global financial crisis hit, the right was already on the up in Europe; by my calculation it was governing 13 of the 27 in February 2008 to the left’s ten. There was a lot of speculation that the crisis would produce a swing to the left, but the reverse happened, and by the middle of 2011 the right had reached an unprecedented high point, governing 21 EU members to the left’s five.

(Note for pedants: classifying governments as “right”, “left” or neither is an inexact science. Some of my choices could be disputed, but they wouldn’t change the overall picture. I’ve left Ireland out entirely since its parties defy ideological classification.)

For about the last year and a half, the left has shown signs of being on the road back, although the road has been a bumpy one. It lost Spain and Slovenia in late 2011 and lost Cyprus just last month, but it has picked up Denmark, Belgium, Slovakia, France and Romania, and now Italy and Malta.

Members of the EU, even more than Australian states, vote very much according to local factors, but it appears there is still something of an underlying continent-wide pattern. With elections still to come this year in Bulgaria, Germany and Austria, plus such non-EU members as Albania and Norway, we’ll get to see whether it’s still running in the left’s favor.

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