Early results from Maltese general election held on Saturday (9 March) showed the center-left Labour Party ahead with 55%, clearing the way for their biggest victory since the Mediterranean island nation obtained independence from Britain in 1964.
"I wasn't expecting such a landslide victory for Labour," said Muscat, a 39-year-old one-time journalist and former member of the European Parliament.
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said he "took full responsibility" for the defeat. The projections showed his Nationalist Party trailing at 43%. Gonzi said he would relinquish the party leadership which he had held since 2004.
During the election campaign, Labour's Muscat had accused Gonzi's outgoing government of presenting false economic figures.
Muscat also campaigned aganist the island's local parochialism, which he described as "tribal politics," calling for an end to corruption and reduced prices for energy consumers. Malta, a small island halfway between Italy and North Africa, is largely dependent on imported fuels.
Malta has hardly had a Labour government in 25 years, except for a 22-month period between 1996 and 1998.
Gonzi was forced to call elections slightly ahead of schedule after one of the government's own lawmakers defied his party in a December budget vote, robbing it of its one-seat majority. Gonzi had argued that his government had protected the economy at a time when other European countries were in dire straits.
Malta has a relatively low unemployment rate of 6% and clocked 1.5% economic growth last year - in contrast to struggling economies in other southern eurozone nations.
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso congratulated Muscat, wishing him "every success." The head of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz said Malta "could look forward to continued good economic growth."
The President of the Centre-left Party of European Socialists (PES) President Sergei Stanishev congratulated the Labour Party, stating that; “this landslide election result is the proof that the Labour Party has the full support of the citizens."
“After years of destructive conservative policies, this result is a vote of confidence [in] the progressive program of sustainable economy and social progress led by Joseph Muscat. I am confident that, under his helm, the new Maltese government will bring fair growth and jobs to Malta,” Stanishev said.
Stanishev added that Malta was taking a step forward, and that Europe too was inching closer to a leftward turn.