Malta general election vote ends

People queue outside a polling station during the National elections of Malta on March 9 Turnout is expected to be over 90%, as in previous polls in Malta

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Polls have closed in a general election on the Mediterranean island of Malta with opinion polls suggesting a change of government after more than 15 years.

The governing Nationalist Party had been behind in opinion polls despite a strong economic performance in one of the smallest countries of the EU.

The Nationalist Party has governed Malta since 1987, apart from 1996-1998 when Labour was in power.

The election was called after the government collapsed in December.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi lost his one-vote majority after a dissenting MP voted against a budget bill.

Turnout was high, with electoral officials reporting that almost half the electorate had voted by mid-afternoon.

Long queues were reported at several polling stations, The Times of Malta reported.

Ballot boxes were taken to a central hall in Naxxar, where the sorting of votes was due to start late on Sunday morning, it said. An indication of the result was likely a short time later.

Malta, with a population of more than 400,000 people, is the smallest and one of the most successful economies in the eurozone.

With its strong tourism and financial services sector, the archipelago has relatively low unemployment, a good growth rate and low government debt.

Mr Gonzi has urged voters to judge him on his good stewardship of the economy, although he has admitted mistakes.

However, if the forecasts are right Labour Party leader Joseph Muscat is set to become prime minister.

Mr Muscat, an economist and former member of the European Parliament, is calling for a change in direction although observers say he hasn't fully explained what that means.

His main electoral pledge is to reduce Malta's electricity prices - believed to be among the highest in the world - by 25%.

In Malta typically more than 90% of eligible voters go to the polls.

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