When in 1966 Malawi became a republic, a new constitution was introduced which abolished multiparty system of government. Following these constitutional changes, Malawi became a one party state with Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda as both head of state and government. Dr Banda’s leadership style was autocratic and dictatorial where dissenting views were not tolerated. Those that dared to were either detained without trial, mysteriously disappeared or went into selfimposed exile. Dr Banda became life president of the Republic of Malawi in 1971. However, the winds of democratic change sweeping across Africa in the late 80s and early 90s did not spare Malawi. Because of both international and domestic pressure for a return to multiparty politics in Malawi, Dr Banda conceded to a referendum in June 1993 where Malawians voted overwhelmingly for a return to multiparty politics. On 17th May 1994, Malawi held its second multiparty elections which ushered in Dr Bakili Muluzi of the United Democratic Front (UDF) who took over the rein of power from Dr Banda under a new political dispensation.
Since the reintroduction of multiparty politics in Malawi in 1994, the country has had five Parliamentary and Presidential Elections; in 1994, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014. The presidency is currently held by Arthur Peter Mutharika, representing the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The State of democracy
During the 2014 election period several cases of political violence was observed. For instance, there were regular clashes between supporters of the United Democratic Front (UDF), the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Peoples’ Party (PP), most of the times when any of the three held a public rally in areas which they claim their dominance (The Nation, Monday, 22 April, 2013).
Another development that has also effected the elections is the low funding to civil society organizations to undertake civic and voter education on the electoral process.
Since the 3rd quarter of the year 2013, there have also been critical socio-developments. Key among these has been the ongoing revelations of massive corruption at Capital Hill involving senior and junior civil servants. Following these revelations donor partners as well as civil society organizations have in various ways mounted pressure on the State President to undertake practical steps to investigate the occurrences, arrest those suspected of involvement in the plunder, as well as reshuffle the cabinet, among other things. On 11th October the cabinet was dissolved. And in the new cabinet announced on 15th October, some members were dropped, and this included the Minister of Finance and that of Justice. Thereafter, there are investigations on the plunder. The forensic audit report was released towards the end of February, 2014. The report has received mixed reactions with members of civil society and opposition political parties calling it as unsatisfactory. The main contention is that the report has no names and companies that were involved in the plunder of the state resources.
The Political participation of women
From 1994 and to present date, new thinking about women in politics has developed. The 1995 Constitution states that the State shall actively promote the welfare and development of the people of Malawi by progressively adopting and implementing policies and legislation aimed at achieving gender equality for women and men through, among other strategies, the full participation of women in all spheres of Malawian society on the basis of equality with men (The Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, Sect. 13a).
Nevertheless, the general picture shows limited participation of women in politics. For in-stance, in 1999, women representation in the National Assembly was at about 9%. In 2004, the representation rose to about 15% and in the last election, in 2009, representation of women in the National Assembly reached just below 21% of the 193 strong House. Further female representation at cabinet level has been increasing from 9% in 1994, to 17% in 1999, and to about 21% in 2004.
There are about 54 registered political parties in Malawi and all of them have Women’s wings operating as separate entities to the party structure. These wings which are run by women face multitude of challenges. Firstly, they lack adequate funding to accomplish their intended activities. In addition, most of them lack appropriate administrative skills. Besides most of the administrative officials do not have job descriptions to effectively carry out their assigned tasks.
In addition, some of the challenges relate to certain cultural and religious beliefs, values and traditions which tend to exacerbate the marginalization of women within party structures. In short, although some party constitutions make reference to women, in practice very little is done to implement such provisions.
Further, while in some political parties women have high positions such as Secretary General, very rare is the tenure of such positions substantive. Therefore, interventions that aim at enhancing leadership and confidence skills are most likely to assist women in ensuring that they are effective in whatever position they hold in a party.