Malta is unique in the bi-polar nature of its politics. Its House of Representatives, not counting any 'bonus' seats, is presently fixed at 65 members. From 13 districts of five members each, the members are "elected upon the principle of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote."
This electoral formula is constitutionally entrenched and has been used in all 22 elections conducted since 1921. The maximum length of a parliamentary term is five years. In Malta, the outcome of the popular vote alone determines which party will take the helm of Government.
Malta is presently divided into 13 electoral districts from which five MPs each are to be elected by STV. The actual number of districts and seats is determined by Parliament within constitutional parameters which stipulate that the number of districts be between 9 and 15 and the number of representatives per district between five and seven.
Additional MPs are elected in two circumstances:
There are variations in applying these STV rules, such as in how to transfer surplus votes from winning candidates and whether to transfer votes to already elected candidates. When the number of votes to transfer from a losing candidate is too small to change the ordering of remaining candidates, more than one candidate can be eliminated simultaneously.
Because votes cast for losing candidates and excess votes cast for winning candidates are transferred to voters' next choice candidates, STV is said to minimize wasted votes.
Since voters rank candidates, STV does not necessarily require political parties as a basis for allocating seats.
Politicians, voters and political analysts in Malta consistently examine and compare the parties' first-count vote totals when discussing the outcome of elections. As in the electoral literature generally, much of this discussion in Malta focuses on the relationship between the parties' respective vote and seat percentages, and particularly the first-count votes which a party's candidates have collectively amassed. STV essentially serves to determine which of a party's candidates shall enter Parliament.
One of the arguments against STV is the complexity of the counting procedures. Indeed, the determination of winners took some 47 hours in the 1992 elections. Amendments to the Election Act, however, have since streamlined the process. In 1996 the first-preference vote totals of the parties were publicly known in less than twenty-four hours, thanks to the assiduous work of party agents monitoring the work carried on in the central ballot counting facility. Casual elections, of course, require additional time, but do not affect party control of parliament.
A major problem in Malta's version of STV was addressed in 1987 and 1996 by amending Article 52 of the Constitution, these were reforms that were generally perceived as a stop-gap measure. While it assured the largest party of a parliamentary majority, it could (and did) give parliamentary seats to candidates who failed to obtain the quota in their district and, by virtue of the bonus seats, give some districts six (and possibly more) instead of five representatives. Moreover, the new rules did not provide any assurance on the continuously debated issue of greater proportionality between the vote and seat percentages of the parties. And thus the issue of electoral reform stayed on the political agenda.
While STV can be hailed as a system that allows preference-ranking irrespective of partisan alignments, ticket-splitting is statistically rare and unimportant in Malta. Even if cross-party transfers were to become more frequent due to a decline in the electorate's partisanship, it would not per se affect the balance of power between the parties, which is determined by first preferences only. A party can no longer 'lose' its majority due to transfer of surplus votes to candidates of other parties.
Source: Wolfgang H.de Miño & John C. Lane, (June, 1999) Malta: STV in a two-party system