Malawi holds regular elections and has undergone multiple transfers of power between political parties. Political rights and civil liberties are largely respected by the state. However, corruption is endemic, police brutality is common, and Malawians are in severe economic distress. Discrimination and violence toward women, members of minority groups, and people with albinism remain problems.
- In June, President Lazarus Chakwera stripped Vice President Saulos Chilima of his powers after the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) accused him of corruption. Chilima was arrested in November but remained in office at year’s end.
- In December, ACB chief Martha Chizuma was arrested over comments recorded in January, in which she expressed concerns that the bureau was being obstructed in its work.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The president is directly elected for five-year terms and exercises considerable executive authority. President Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) was elected in a June 2020 election that was considered well-administered, competitive, credible, and reflective of the popular will.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The unicameral National Assembly’s 193 members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms. The 2019 legislative elections were marred by irregularities and logistical problems. As many as 29 candidates challenged the results in court, with several being successful. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won 62 seats, the MCP won 55, and the United Democratic Front (UDF) won 10 at that election; smaller parties and independent candidates won the remaining seats. The Tonse Alliance, an MCP-led coalition, maintained a parliamentary majority in 2022.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
The Constitutional Court overturned the results of the 2019 presidential election in early 2020. That election was marred by inconsistencies and concerns over the behavior of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), which had to defend the use of corrective fluid on vote-tabulation sheets. Opposition parties challenged the results’ validity, prompting the court’s involvement. In 2021, after the High Court of Malawi ruled that four commissioners were illegally appointed, President Chakwera appointed three DPP-aligned commissioners and one MCP-aligned commissioner, effectively balancing the body.
In November 2022, the MEC finalized a program to redraw constituency boundaries to ensure a more equitable distribution of voters in each district. The MEC recommended an increase in the number of constituencies from 193 to 229. In December, the National Assembly amended several laws with the aim of improving electoral efficiency and credibility. A bill passed that month will allow for a presidential runoff if no candidate wins a first-round majority.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||3.003 4.004|
Several parties compete in elections, with the MCP, DPP, and UDF being Malawi’s largest. Parties are loosely organized, with politicians frequently moving between parties or forming their own breakaway groups. The law allows independent candidates in presidential, parliamentary, and local elections. According to an Afrobarometer survey released in August 2022, a majority of respondents said they feel free to join political organizations and vote for their preferred candidates.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||3.003 4.004|
Malawi has experienced peaceful transfers of power between rival parties. The 2020 presidential election was the second time after 1994 that an opposition candidate defeated a sitting incumbent.
The governing party generally has a campaigning advantage and enjoys partial coverage from state-owned media, leaving the opposition reliant on private outlets.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||3.003 4.004|
Traditional chiefs, who receive government honoraria, are supposed to be nonpartisan figures under the law but frequently seek to influence voter choices in practice. Some chiefs publicly endorse candidates during elections and even threaten opposition candidates against campaigning in their regions. A handful of ethnic associations seek to promote partisan agendas.
The Political Parties Act bans politicians from using cash handouts and other incentives to garner votes. Despite this, handouts in the form of cash and materials are common during election campaigns.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
All ethnic, religious, and gender groups have full political rights under the law. Women are significantly underrepresented in politics, with women holding only 20.7 percent of the National Assembly’s seats as of December 2022. However, women do hold important government posts; the parliament’s speaker, inspector general of police, ACB chief, and ombudsman are women.
Political parties generally do not advocate for the rights of LGBT+ people, who are subject to legal and societal discrimination.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||3.003 4.004|
Executive and legislative representatives typically determine the policies of government without hindrance. However, patronage and clientelism are common, and wealthy business leaders often influence policymaking.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
Corruption is a significant challenge in Malawi, with senior government officials being implicated in corruption in recent years. The delivery of government services is affected, with lower-level officials being pressured into to tolerating the corrupt behavior of their superiors.
Civil society leaders have accused the ACB of being ineffective and politically compromised in the past. In July 2022, the ACB gained the ability to prosecute corruption cases without seeking consent from the director of public prosecutions. In August, it arrested one of its former chiefs, Reyneck Matemba, for allegedly accepting a bribe.
In June 2022, President Chakwera stripped Vice President Saulos Chilima’s powers after the ACB accused Chilima of corruption. In November, the ACB arrested Chilima for allegedly receiving funds from Zuneth Sattar, a Malawi-born businessman active in the United Kingdom, in return for awarding government contracts to firms connected to Sattar. Chilima remained in office at year’s end.
In December 2022, ACB chief Martha Chizuma was arrested over comments recorded in January; in those comments, Chizuma expressed her concern that the ACB’s investigation into the Sattar affair was being impeded. Chizuma had been criticized for breaching an oath to secrecy, though observers tied her arrest to the ACB’s investigation of Vice President Chilima.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||3.003 4.004|
The government lacks budgetary transparency and does not make year-end budget audit reports public. President Chakwera regularly appears before lawmakers to answer their questions. Government ministers occasionally appear before the media to address major issues and answer journalists’ questions.
High-level officials are legally required to declare their assets and other financial interests while in public service.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
Freedom of the press is legally guaranteed and respected in practice. Most private media houses are owned by political families and often take partisan positions. Journalists sometimes face physical violence while reporting on demonstrations or police activity.
Between June and August 2022, the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) revoked the licenses of three television stations and six radio stations for their apparent failure to pay annual license fees; the Malawian chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa noted that MACRA revoked licenses even when media outlets had made fee payments.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
The freedom of religion is constitutionally upheld and generally respected in practice. Christians and Muslims occasionally engage in conflict, which is often resolved peacefully.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Malawi’s education system is largely free from political indoctrination. University students and professors engage in research and political activities without interference. However, public universities are poorly funded.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||3.003 4.004|
Citizens are typically free to express their personal views without fear of surveillance or retribution. Under a 2016 cybercrime law, individuals can be sued for posting “offensive” content on social and traditional media platforms. A small number of individuals faced court proceedings over their social media content in 2022. A 1967 law against insulting the president is rarely enforced.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3.003 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed. Citizen groups can assemble peacefully, although public gatherings require prior police and local government authorization. Demonstrations held in 2022 were mostly peaceful, though protesters and police clashed during a July cost-of-living rally in Lilongwe.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||2.002 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are active in Malawi, though civil society figures deemed to support the opposition are often subject to intimidation and arrest. A law passed in March 2022 established the NGO Regulatory Authority. Several NGOs protested the legislation, which they said included unduly harsh punishments for violating its provisions.
Under the NGO Act, an organization’s registration can be suspended if it is deemed to have departed from its original purpose, engaged in partisan politics, or otherwise violated its provisions.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3.003 4.004|
The right to organize labor unions and to strike are legally protected, though these are limited for workers that offer essential services. Unions are active and collective bargaining is practiced, but retaliation against unregistered unions and strikers is not illegal. No major strikes were reported in 2022.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||3.003 4.004|
Judicial independence is generally respected, particularly in the higher courts. However, the appointment process for judges lacks transparency, and the judiciary is underfunded, which can also undercut judicial autonomy. Accusations of corruption have been made against the judiciary, especially against lower courts.
The High Court of Malawi’s bench was not full during 2022; 7 judges were appointed in February, but the entire court was short of its envisioned contingent of 78. In June, Chakwera appointed four High Court judges to the Supreme Court of Appeal to address a backlog at that court.
The Courts Act Amendment Bill was passed in August 2022. It increased the retirement age of judges to 70 and established a High Court division to handle financial crimes.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||2.002 4.004|
Defendants are entitled to legal representation, but in practice they are frequently forced to represent themselves in court due to a very low lawyer-to-population ratio. Although the law requires that suspects be released or charged with a crime within 48 hours of arrest, these rights are often ignored. Case backlogs contribute to lengthy pretrial detention.
The Legal Aid Bureau was formed under the 2011 Legal Aid Act (LAA) to support indigent and vulnerable clients. It has continued to advocate for changes to the LAA to allow paralegals to serve as legal counsel for the indigent. However, the Malawi Law Society has voiced opposition to the proposal.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
Police are poorly trained, ill-equipped, and often ineffective. Police brutality and corruption is common. Prison conditions are dire and characterized by overcrowding; the country’s prison population stood at 233.8 percent of capacity as of October 2022. A Malawi Human Rights Commission report released that month indicated that the country’s main prisons had run out of certain foods due to funding and rising prices; prisoners went without food for days or relied on outside assistance.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution explicitly guarantees the rights of all humans. Homophobia remains commonplace, however; in an Afrobarometer survey released in August 2022, a large majority of respondents expressed discomfort with the idea of LGBT+ neighbors. Same-sex relations remain a crime punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment.
Despite constitutional equal protection guarantees, women experience discrimination in education, politics, employment, business, and other aspects of life. In a June 2022 report, the World Bank said that Malawi had made improvements closing the gender gap, but improvements to education, maternal health, and policy implementation were still needed.
Help for children with disabilities is rarely available.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution establishes freedom of internal and foreign travel, which are generally respected. However, police roadblocks are ubiquitous and bribes are common at these checkpoints. The government’s policy of confining refugees to designated camps has been criticized for restricting their freedom of movement and impairing their ability to earn a living.
Most coronavirus-related movement restrictions were lifted in 2022.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
Property rights are inadequately protected. Starting a business can be a cumbersome process that is worsened by corruption in key government agencies.
Most land is held under customary tenure, and the process of establishing legal ownership of land has moved slowly. The Land (Amendment) Bill of 2022, which was passed in March, limits noncitizens’ ability to own land.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||1.001 4.004|
Domestic violence is common, but victims rarely come forward, and police generally do not intervene in domestic violence cases. Authorities have taken some action against perpetrators of sexual abuse in recent years, however. In an Afrobarometer survey released in August 2022, most Malawian respondents said that police take reports of gender-based violence seriously.
Child sexual abuse is prevalent. Traditional leaders have spoken out against, and in some cases forced the annulment of, underage marriages. According to the Afrobarometer survey released in August 2022, 42 percent of Malawian respondents believe the use of physical discipline against children is common in their communities.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
Income inequality remains a problem and inhibits economic mobility. Cost-of-living concerns were exacerbated by the central bank’s May 2022 decision to devalue the kwacha. Enforcement of labor laws is weak, and employees are often paid extremely low wages, despite minimum-wage laws. Child labor is a persistent problem, particularly in tobacco estates.
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Global Freedom Score66 100 partly free
Internet Freedom Score57 100 partly free