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Key points of Malawi as it votes May 21 in sixth pluralistic poll since 1994

Written by  Felix Mponda

The following are key points of Malawi as it goes to its sixth democratic poll on May 21 since the collapse of one-party rule of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) in 1994.


GEOGRAPHY: A small and land-locked country in Southern Africa measures 118,484 square kilometers (74,747 square miles). Lake Malawi, the 12th biggest lake in the world, straddles one third of the country, from Karonga district in the North, to Mangochi district in the South. Shares border with Tanzania to the North, Mozambique to the East and South and Zambia to the West.


POPULATION: 17. 5 million, according to the 2018 national census results, from 13.02 million in 2008. At independence from Britain in 1964, the population was 4 million.


CAPITAL: Lilongwe in Central Malawi, though Blantyre, the oldest city in the South, is regarded as the commercial capital. Parliament, which has 193 lawmakers, sits in Lilongwe.


LANGUAGES: English is the official language. Chichewa is the most widely spoken local language, while Tumbuka is the main language in Northern Malawi. Other important languages are Lomwe, Yao, Sena, Tonga and Chinkhonde. There are many dialects as well.


RELIGION: A very tolerant religious country with freedom of religion enshrined in the Constitution which has the bill of rights. Christianity and Islam are the major religions, while Hindus and animists are also present.


POLITICAL SYSTEM: Presidential and First-Past-The Post (FPTP) System. The presidential candidate who bags the most votes is elected the Executive Head of State and forms government, despite having minority lawmakers.


ECONOMY: Agriculture powers the economy, accounting for about 85 percent of employment and about 80 percent of foreign exchange, with tobacco alone contributing 60 percent of foreign receipts. Other export crops are sugar and tea. Agriculture contributes 28 percent to total GDP, but the concentration of its economy in a few primary commodities makes it vulnerable to weather and terms of trade shocks. Smallholders are responsible for more than 80 percent of the country’s agricultural output, but it is predominantly subsistence farming and reliance of rain leaves the rural farmers vulnerable to bad weather. Malawi is also highly-aid dependent.


POVERTY: Considered one of the poorest countries on earth, The World Bank says with most of the population engaged in subsistence rain-fed farming, macroeconomic instability and the sub-optimal performance of the agriculture sector have contributed to the slow pace of reduction. Current estimates using the international poverty line (US$ 1.90 per day), indicate that 69.4 percent of the population is classified as being poor in 2017.


LITERACY: Estimated literacy rate for the country is at 73 percent, of which for the adult population, men’s literacy is at 81 percent and 66 percent for women.


DEVELOPMENT STRATEGIES: Development guided by Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS), a series of five-year plans that contribute to the long-term development goals outlined in Vision 2020.


INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS|DIPLOMACY: Member of the United Nations (UN), Commonwealth, the African Union (AU) and Southern African Development Community (SADC).


INCUMBENT PRESIDENT: Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) (from 2014). Mutharika is standing for re-election to finish the constitutional two terms of five years each.


PREVIOUS PRESIDENTS: Joyce Banda , People’s Party (2012-2014), Bingu wa Mutharika, DPP, (2004-2012), United Democratic Front, Bakili Muluzi (1994-2004) and Kamuzu Banda, Malawi Congress Party (1966-1994).



  1. Malawi Congress Party (MCP): Dr. Lazarus Chakwera. Running mate: Sidik Mia.
  1. Umodzi Party (UP): Professor John Eugene Chisi: Running mate: Timothy Watch Kamulete.
  2. Mbakuwaku Movement for Development (MMD): Peter Dominic Driver Kuwani. Running mate: Archbold McLenard Kalawang’ona as running mate.
  3. UTM: Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima: Running mate: Dr. Michael Bizwick Usi.
  4. United Democratic Front (UDF): Atupele Austin Muluzi. Running mate: Frank Tumpale Mwenifumbo.
  5. Independent: Reverend Hadwick Kaliya. Running mate: Mabvuto Alfred Ng’ona.
  6. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP): Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika: Running mate: Everton Herbert Chimulirenji.


NUMBER of REGISTERED VOTERS: 6, 859,375. Some 3.7 million youth registered, representing 54 percent of the total number of voters. Among the voters, 2.1 million are females while 1.6 million are males.


NUMBER OF PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATES: 1,331. Out of this, 501 are independents. DPP, MCP, UTM and UDF have fielded the highest number of parliamentary contestants.

.Sources: MEC Updates, World Bank (Malawi Economic Monitor), NSO, MGDS 11, Integrated Household Survey [IHS4] 2017) and other documents.

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