Fraudulent elections in Malawi
Violence follows re-election of United Democratic Front
By Dave Atkinson and Linda Slattery
2 July 1999
The recent elections in the southern African country of Malawi,
held on June 15, were characterized by voting irregularities and
accusations of fraud. The ruling United Democratic Front (UDF)
resorted to openly bribing Malawians to vote for them. So blatant
was the corruption that Malawi's new TV station, broadcasting
for two and a half hours each evening, showed UDF leader Bakili
Muluzi handing out fistfuls of money to singing and dancing supporters.
On June 17 the Opposition Alliance, comprising the Malawi Congress
Party (MCP) and the Alliance For Democracy (AFORD), in vain sought
a high court injunction to stop the Malawi Electoral Commission
from publishing the election results. They listed the following
* The police were holding a driver found with ballot papers,
who had been sent by a senior UDF politician to rig the polls
in the central district of Malawi.
* The UDF had continued campaigning after the ballot had officially
* A UDF official gave money to churchgoers in return for votes.
* There were inadequate numbers of ballot papers in the Alliance's
* There were 168,000 non-registered voters in the northern
region (i.e. in opposition strongholds).
The elections had been postponed twice amid allegations of
registration irregularities and vote rigging.
When the election results were announced, out of 193 seats
the UDF won 93, the MCP won 66 and AFORD 29, with four seats going
to independent candidates. One seat is still to be contested in
a by-election as the candidate died on the eve of the poll.
As well as vote rigging, the UDF was accused of intimidating
opposing candidates. A former broadcaster and ex-UDF member, now
standing as an independent, Patricia Chipungu-Thodi, was threatened
with a gun and told: "We'll blow your brains out if you don't
stop embarrassing Muluzi."
After the election there were violent clashes between supporters
of rival parties. In the north of the country supporters of AFORD
clashed with supporters of the UDF, with reports of at least 10
mosques being set on fire by AFORD supporters, due to the fact
that Bakili Muluzi is a Muslim. In the northern city of Mzuzu
three people were killed and many families, originally from the
south, had to leave their homes for fear of being attacked by
AFORD supporters. In the central town of Mangochi a 19-year-old
female student was shot dead when police opened fire on a crowd
of UDF supporters gathered outside an MCP office.
Despite all this, a spokesman for the International Election
Observers said the elections were "substantially free, fair
There are no discernible ideological differences separating
any of the parties that contested the elections. Both Bakili Muluzi
and Gwanda Chakuamba, present leader of the MCP, were previously
key figures in the MCP and the regime of Hastings Banda.
The introduction of multiparty elections in 1994, after 30
years of dictatorship under Hastings Banda, has done nothing to
alleviate the plight of Malawi's poor. Banda's extreme unpopularity—he
supported and received aid from the apartheid regime in South
Africa from the mid-1960s on—enabled the UDF to come to power
on a programme of support for "free market" economics.
Since 1994 the UDF has stuck to its promises to the IMF, attacking
the working class and rural masses through cuts in government
spending and an increase in taxes. In 1998 it devalued the country's
currency, the Kwacha, which lost 68 percent of its value, giving
rise to a sharp increase in food prices. The devaluation followed
an $80 million deficit in tobacco sales—the main export—following
a fall in prices.
Malawi, with a population of around 12 million, is one of the
world's least developed countries. Its economy is predominantly
agricultural and until recently 90 percent of the people lived
in rural areas. The current per capita income is less than $200.
Life expectancy is just 36.6 years for men and 36.5 years for
women. The maternal mortality rate is 620 per 100,000 live births
and Malawi has the highest infant mortality rates in Africa. This
is due to deteriorating nutrition levels and falling immunization
The main cause of death in children is malaria and malnutrition,
the situation being made worse by the limited number of health
facilities. Fully 57 percent of Malawians live more than five
kilometres from a health center. A new report by UNICEF states
that 48 percent of under fives in Malawi are stunted or too short
for their age, indicating chronic malnutrition. Severe stunting
in the cities increased during the last three years from 11 percent
to 19 percent.
The current proportion of people who are HIV positive is 12
percent, and 88,000 children are orphaned, many as a consequence
of this. The figure is expected to grow to 330,000 by the year
Malawi, listed in the recent G8 summit as one of the countries
most in need of aid, is receiving some attention from transnational
corporations and the imperialist powers. It possesses sizable
deposits of bauxite, asbestos, coal, gemstones, uranium, hydrocarbons
and graphite. These have not been extensively exploited due to
the lack of an infrastructure and the high cost of transport to
the nearest ports in Mozambique.
Japan is to fund the Shire River bridge, costing over $12 million,
to establish a cross-border transport link through Mozambique.
In May the Malawi Privatization Commission approved a bid by the
consortium CFM/SDCN to buy Malawi Railways Ltd. The consortium
is made up of a Mozambique company and the Railroad Development
Corporation of the United States. The company plans to rebuild
rail lines to the Moatize coal mines in the Tete province and
another to a sugar plantation in Marromeu. There are also plans
for a rail link to be developed with the Mozambican port of Beira.
American investors are also seeking to open up the Nacala corridor
through Mozambique, which will provide a trade route to landlocked
Zambia as well as Malawi