n Journal of African Elections - Alliances, coalitions and the weakening of the party system in Malawi

Volume 13, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1609-4700



In nascent democracies, like that in Malawi, with presidential regimes and plurality electoral systems, the emergence of fragmented political party systems is inevitable, characterised by ethnically polarised political behaviour, fragile institutions and minority governments. This ultimately leads to volatile and contentious legislative-executive relations, weak political party cohesion and the stagnation of democratic consolidation. Malawi's system inherently offers neither incentives for coalition formation nor mutual interdependence between the executive and the legislature. Hence, the latent conflicts, persistent governance crises, inertia and grinding executive-legislative confrontations. Among political actors and across minority regimes in Malawi recourse to coalition politics has not been embraced as an optimal democratic instrument and formal strategy for state governability since 1994. The Mutharika minority government (2004-2009), which was persistently frustrated by parliamentary paralysis, survived on the floorcrossing inducements of opposition legislators, extended judicial injunctions and the presidential prorogation of Parliament. In addition, the brief 'experiments' with government coalitions, 'collusions' and electoral alliances weakened cohesion within partner parties and hardly increased national cohesion, but promoted state governability and yielded marginal gains in democratic consolidation. This article argues that political institutions that are designed to encourage formal political coalitions and discourage floorcrossing (parliamentary systems and proportional electoral laws) serve to mitigate against state instability and enhance democratic consolidation.

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