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May 15, 2014

Malawi Presidential Vote, ‘Too Close to Call’

by Peter Clottey

A newly released Afrobarometer poll in Malawi shows President Joyce Banda and her ruling People’s Party (PP) placed third behind two opposition presidential candidates in the run up to the May 20 presidential, legislative and local elections.

The survey showed a decline in President Banda’s approval rating, which dropped from a high of 68 percent shortly after she took office in 2012, to just 38 percent in 2014 with about a 60 percent disapproval rating.

But supporters of the ruling party have rejected the outcome of the poll, contending that the poll, released days before the general election, could undermine the credibility of the vote.

Boniface Dulani, Afrobarometer Operations field manager in Malawi dismissed the PP supporters claim that the results of the poll will undermine the credibility of the election.

“Our finding is that the election in Malawi is too close to call. But that said, there is a clear candidate that is in the lead and that is the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party [Peter Mutharika], with 27 percent saying that they will vote for that particular candidate,” said Dulani. “In the second place is the Malawi Congress Party, Lazarus Chakwera with 21 percent…in third place is incumbent President Joyce Banda with 19 percent.”

Dulani says about 15 percent of the respondents have yet to decide which presidential candidates to vote for in the general election.  He says the undecided respondents could act as swing voters in next week’s vote.

“We believe that depending on who that 15 percent undecided decide to vote could sway the results in favor of the top three candidates in particular,” said Dulani.

He says Afrobarometer’s scientific poll is a true reflection of the responses the group got from prospective Malawian voters in the run up to the election. Dulani outlined some of the findings in the polling.

“When we look closely at the numbers, we see that there is a regional split, with the ruling party of President Joyce Banda doing very well in the northern part of the country, but that also happens to be the least populous region…In the Central region of the country the Malawi Congress Party have a lot of support, and it also happens to be the second most populous region, of the three regions of this country,” he said.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been polling very well in the Southern region, which is the most populous region of the country, with about 3.3 million registered voters, according to Dulani.

He says Afrobarometer stands by its polling results after supporters of the projected losing candidates rejected the findings saying the outcome was not a true reflection of their ground games.

Dulani says the polling organization is not to blame for the outcome of its findings about the performance of the presidential candidates in the run up to the vote.

“No one, especially this close the election, would want to be labeled as a likely loser,” said Dulani. “But what we tell people is that it’s not Afrobarometer saying that this one is in the lead… we are just presenting what Malawian citizens have told us. So the onus is on the political leadership in this country to go and make their case to the Malawian citizens that they are worthy of getting their vote.”

Critics say Afrobarometer’s polling could negatively influence prospective voters as well as create potential voter apathy. Dulani disagreed.

“It’s obviously good timing for our findings showing those in the lead and maybe bad timing for those [trailing] that think the timing is poor. But, I’m pretty sure that we would have had the same complaints even if we had released the findings 10 weeks back, we would still have had those complaints,” said Dulani.

Afrobarometer is an African-led network of social scientists that conducts regular public opinion surveys in about 35 African countries.         
Clottey interview with Prof. Boniface Dulani, Afrobarometer Malawi manager