There is a growing academic interest in the connection between elections and democratic governance in Southern Africa, and Africa as a whole (see, for example, Asmal and De Ville 1994; Hyden 1997; Harris and Reilly 1998; Brito 2003; Darga 2004; Makoa 2004 and 2005; Matlosa 2003a, 2003b, and 2005). Scholars agree unanimously that regular elections are an important measure of democratic governance, though they do not necessarily constitute democracy per se (see Nzongola-Ntalaja 1997).1 Periodic elections directly shape the nature of political representation by determining which groups and parties are included in political decision-making structures and institutions, and which are not. 2 They are a means of popular intervention and participation in the political process, hence they contribute to the entrenchment of democracy (Makoa 2005), while, at the same time, influencing ‘fair’ or ‘unfair’ representation of political groups in representative bodies. Elections are a key mechanism through which the public can influence the political process and keep public office holders in regular and periodic check. They provide opportunities for the electorate to make a retrospective assessment of government’s (as well as the opposition’s) performance, and exercise some degree of control over their representatives (Dulani 2005). The holding of periodic elections therefore provides a link between democratic politics and the public interest by ensuring that politicians, who claim to represent and speak for the public, are ultimately judged by the same public (Schumpeter 1942). However, it must be emphasised that elections, on their own, do not constitute democracy. They are simply among the major hallmarks of democratic politics (Przeworski et al 1996). Reducing democracy to elections would amount to what Larry Diamond (1996) calls the ‘fallacy of electoralism’. This paper discusses elections and democratic governance in Malawi. It joins Robin Luckham and others (2003) who argue that although there have been numerous benefits of democratic transition there are, at the same time, some major ‘democratic deficits’ (see also Matlosa 2005). The paper argues that one of these deficits relates to the management of the electoral process, and others to the effects of the electoral event on democratic governance. The Malawi case is an example of these deficits.
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Categories: Journal of African Elections