Since 2005, The Centre for Multiparty Democracy – Malawi (CMD-M) has supported interparty dialogue and built trust between the nation’s parties. Their tireless efforts have provided an inclusive all-party platform for political actors in Malawi, which at the end of 2018 has yielded a significant milestone in the country’s institutional development.

As of 1 December, the Political Parties Act has come into effect. This landmark legislation, passed after a concerted lobbying effort on the part of CMD-M, taking aim directly at avenues of corruption and patronage in Malawi’s multiparty system. The main provision of the law is to impose heavy financial penalties or up to five-year prison sentences on candidates using cash payments or other incentives to buy support during the election cycle.

The timing of the law coming into effect is highly significant, with defining elections taking place in May 2019. Some candidates have allegedly used donations to poor communities across the country as a means of garnering support in past elections, a tactic that will be off limits in May’s national vote. With the incentives around voter behaviour hopefully changed, the Act’s proponents hope that policy choices and political ideas will take a more deciding role in elections.

Speaking to the Associated Free Press, University of Malawi political scientist Henry Chingaipe said: “We have propagated a culture of patrimonial politics through handouts. Instead of people voting out of conscience, you are essentially buying their vote.” Political parties have publicly declared their support for, or at least willingness to obey, the new law, showing that voters and analysts alike have reasons to be optimistic about the credibility of the election in 2019.