The strategic importance of Malta was recognized in the time of the Phoenicians, whose occupation was followed by that of the Greeks, the Carthaginians, and the Romans. The apostle Paul was shipwrecked at Malta in AD 58, and the islanders were converted to Christianity within two years. With the official split of the Roman Empire in 395, Malta was assigned to Byzantium, and in 870 it fell under the domination of the Saracens. In 1090, it was taken by Count Roger of Normandy, and thereafter was controlled by the rulers of Sicily. The Emperor Charles V granted it in 1530 to the Knights of St. John, who had been driven from Rhodes by the Turks. The Knights surrendered Malta to Napoleon in 1798. Two years later, the British ousted the French garrison, with the aid of a revolt by the Maltese people. British possession was confirmed in 1814 by the Treaty of Paris. During most of the nineteenth and half of the twentieth centuries, a British military governor ruled the colony. While substantial self-government was restored in 1947, it was not until 1964 that Malta became a sovereign and independent nation within the Commonwealth.
Malta is a parliamentary democracy in which the president, Guido de Marco as of 1999, is the head of state. A Constitution was adopted in 1964, revised in 1974, and amended in 1987. The president appoints as prime minister the leader of the party with a majority of seats in Parliament. Together, the president and prime minister appoint other ministers to complete the cabinet. Actual political power is in the hands of the prime minister. The 65 members of the unicameral Parliament and its prime minister are elected on the basis of a complicated system of proportional representation and majority vote. In 1996, the government approved several constitutional amendments that have, in effect, guaranteed only a two-party presence in Parliament. Presently, there are three active factions in Maltese politics. The Nationalist Party (PN) is the party of Fenech Adami. The Malta Labor Party (MLP) is the opposition. The Democratic Alternative (AD–Green Party) has joined forces with the Social Justice Alliance (AGS) and, together they are known as AD-AGS. The AD-AGS alliance won just over 1% of the vote in the 1998 election and holds no seats in Parliament. The legal voting age is 18.