Behind the Headlines the Future of Malta

The election victory by Prime Minister Dom Mintoff’s Labor Party in Malta may result in the tiny but strategically located Mediterranean Island state leaving the British-NATO orbit and entering the Arab sphere. Specifically, It may become inextricably bound to President Muammar Qaddafi of Libya who is currently supported by the Soviet Union.

Mintoff’s party won a three-seat majority over the opposition Nationalist Party in the 65-member parliament. This is regarded as a clear mandate for Mintoff to carry out foreign policy changes aimed at bringing Malta into the non-aligned group of nations.

Under Labor Party government for the past five years, Malta has become increasingly dependent on substantial loans from Saudi Arabia. Libya has shared in the island’s new investment finance bank, a number of hotels, a joint company with the government, a shipyard and other new projects. With a Labor victory, that dependence is expected to increase, especially as the planned British withdrawal in three years will mean a loss of 30 million Pounds Sterling to the Island.

About 14 million Pounds Sterling is in the form of rent for NATO bases. About a third of that amount is paid by Britain and about 16 million Pounds is spent by the British services on Malta.

Malta’s future will depend on the extent that NATO itself is worried over the island’s Libyan connection. Since 1972, when the present NATO lease was signed, Soviet power has grown in the Mediterranean and the West has become more sensitive to it than it was five years ago. Had the Nationalist Party won, the prospects for signing another lease would have been good. The Libyans want to get rid of the NATO base and were banking on a Mintoff victory.

British official attitudes are muted but are believed to be similar to those of their NATO partners, Today’s elections were regarded here as important for the West as a whole.

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