A political party in Malta that campaigns for LGBT rights may have set back their cause by taking votes away from the country’s Labour Party.

Labour are generally considered to be more liberal than the winning Nationalist Party (PN), who now remain in power.

In a general election earlier this month the PN, led by Lawrence Gonzi, won the most seats in the National House Of Representatives.

However, the difference between victory for the Nationalists and the Malta Labour Party (MLP) was decided by a few thousand votes.

For a decade the Green Party in Malta, Alternattiva Demokratika (AD), and their leader Harry Vasallo, have challenged the two-party system in Malta and pushed for gay civil rights.

But the party appears to have split the progressive vote in Malta, with some worrying that he may have helped hand the election to PN, who won 143,468 votes or 49.34%. They now have 35 seats in parliament.

The MLP won 141,888 votes (48.79%) and gained four seats, giving them 34.

Alternattiva Demokratika’s vote was 3,810, an increase of 2,681 on the 2003 election but still only 1.31% of the vote and not enough to win a seat.

The problem among the progressive camp, it has been claimed, is that half of voters desired change while the other half did not want Alfred Sant, the leader of the MLP, to become Prime Minister.

Malta’s gay community accounts for about 5% of the voting population.

Generally considered to be MLP supporters, many decided to vote for the AD.

Mr Vasallo said before the elections that the recognition of gay rights would be a step forward, according to the Times of Malta.

He said he was supporting the petition organised by the Malta Gay Rights Movement and signed by more than 1,000 people, asking for legal recognition of same-sex couples, a homophobic bullying strategy for the island nation’s schools and new laws targeting homophobic and transphobic crimes.

In addition to this, Dr Patrick Attard, Malta’s only gay political candidate ran a tireless campaign for AD.

He and others ran an online campaign that targeted the gay vote on popular networking sites like Facebook and Gaydar, which are popular with the Maltese gay community.

AD supporters do not concede that they played the spoiler in the March 8th election.

But since MLP lost by such a narrow margin, less than one percent of the vote, some in the MLP are certain to feel that they lost because they could not secure the gay vote.

In 2004, Malta banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation after the Malta Gay Rights Movement lobbied for the measure to be included in an Employment Relations Act.

However, like many of the ‘new’ bloc of EU member states, Malta is a

conservative religious society, with 98% of the population identifying as Roman Catholics, and although homosexuality is legal, there remains significant prejudice.

In 2000 the PN government was criticised by gay rights groups for openly homophobic statements condemning EU proposals to treat gay people equally.

According to a December 2006 Eurobarometer survey, only 18% of the Maltese population support gay marriage, and there is significant prejudice against the LGBT community.