n Africa Insight - Consolidating Malawi's democracy? An analysis of the 2004 Malawi general elections

Volume 36, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0256-2804


Malawi held general elections in May 2004, at which the country's third post-independence president, Bingu wa Muntharika, was elected. This article analyses the pre-election period, during which the incumbent Bakili Muluzi attempted to amend the constitution to enable him to serve a third term in office. After these attempts were unsuccessful, the ruling party then went on to campaign with Muntharika as its main candidate. The article argues that the differences among Malawi's main parties are small, and were in any case not well communicated to the electorate. The key factors influencing voting decisions were thus party propaganda and the personal attributes or geographic origins of the party leaders. The paper also notes that the elections were marred by low voter turnout and logistical problems. Various problems are discussed, such as the difficulty of an elected president whose party only holds around a quarter of the seats in Parliament. These results have implications for the legitimacy of the president and the government, and point to a fragmentation of popular support in Malawi. The election results reveal a growing maturity in Malawi's democracy and among its voters.

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