Malawi: Pre-independence election of 1964

Extracted from: "Malawi" IN Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa (2002), edited by Tom Lodge, Denis Kadima and David Pottie, EISA, 123.

At the 1962 constitutional conference, a programme for complete internal self government for Nyasaland was worked out in two stages. In the first stage, which took effect in February 1963, the Executive Council was replaced by a ten member cabinet headed by the country's first prime minister, Dr Banda. The other ministers were eight elected MCP members of the legislature, while the colonial finance secretary served as ex officio minister of finance. The cabinet was to have general direction and control of the government of Nyasaland; it was collectively responsible to the legislature, which was renamed the Legislative Assembly and consisted of the existing number of elected members, an elected speaker, and such ministers (up to three) as might be appointed from outside the assembly. The second stage was enacted in May 1963 and provided for an increase in the number of elected members of the legislature; the broadening of the franchise (in fact, the introduction of universal adult suffrage); and the seating in the legislature of representatives of minority groups. The cabinet ceased to be advisory to the governor, except in matters such as public safety and public order.

During the constitutional talks in London in September 1963, it was agreed that general elections would be held in April 1964. The new constitution provided for a Legislative Assembly of 53 members, 50 of whom would be elected on a general voters' roll on the basis of universal adult suffrage. The remaining three seats were reserved for European members on a special voters' roll. There was no separate provision for Asian representation, as the Nyasaland Asian Convention earlier dissolved and declared its support for the MCP. Registration for the 1964 election produced a total of 1 871 790 on the general voters' roll. Initially, only Africans, Asians and people of mixed descent could register on this roll, but after re opening of the register a sizeable number of Europeans were added.

A statistical analysis showed that 55% of voters on this roll were women. In contrast, a mere 814 voters registered on the special voters' roll, which was reserved for Europeans.

Under the MCP constitution, Dr Banda had the power, which he did not hesitate to exercise, to decide who should be the party candidate in each constituency. In the run up to the election, all activities of the MCP were geared towards securing a guarantee that each of its 50 candidates on the general voters' roll would be unopposed. Three European candidates from the Nyasaland Constitutional Party (NCP) were to contest the seats on the special voters' roll. Certainly there were no legal restrictions on the establishment of new political parties, but the claims of massive support made by small opposition parties (such as the Convention African National Union of Pemba Ndovi) did not stand up to any test. The MCP was visibly achieving its goals, its organizational network was widespread, and support for it was still a matter, not of adherence to one set of political alternatives, but of a belief in the idea of an African nation. No doubt aware of the social and, perhaps, physical censure that would operate against opposition candidates, opposition parties accepted their inevitable defeat beforehand and the 50 MCP candidates were returned unopposed. Similarly, the candidature of the three NCP members were not opposed. Thus, with all 53 seats in the new National Assembly uncontested, an official vote on polling day was superfluous. The 1964 election clearly revealed that there was only one political party in Malawi.