Business mood over the past two days [Tuesday and yesterday] has been subdued in the country’s major cities and towns largely because of the tripartite elections, but commentators have differed on the reasons for the passive business activity.
Malawians on Tuesday and, in some places, yesterday went out to vote for councillors, members of Parliament (MPs) and a president of their choice, in an election that has been largely peaceful, despite the delayed arrival of voting materials in some polling centres which sparked sporadic violent reaction, but was contained later in the day.
However, the delay in the materials resulted in people casting votes in some centres, mostly in Blantyre, hours after the official 6am starting time, forcing the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to extend the closing time from 6pm to 9pm.
Despite the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development announcing on Monday that Tuesday was not a public holiday, most business operators and companies seemed to have taken the day in view of the business activity.
Some businesses and banks opened in the morning, but closed a few hours later, a development one commentator said was because of the uncertainty created by reports of violence in some places. Most of the vendors were also not plying their trade.
The private sector mouthpiece, the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) has attributed the low business activity to the election mood that characterised the past two days.
“People were fired up and wanted to vote and this affected business activity. This year, everybody was eager to exercise a right to vote,” MCCCI president Newton Kambala told Business Review yesterday.
He said even yesterday business was subdued because some people were glued to their radios and wanted to listen to the election results.
Some small business operators also shut their businesses and those who were in business were those selling cooked groundnuts and other fruits.
Small and Medium Enterprises Association (Smea) president James Chiutsi said some businesses were lost particularly because of the uncertainty created by the elections.
“This tells us how politics play a big role in the development of small and medium enterprises. Whenever there are uncertainties, businesses do not perform to the expected level,” he explained.
Chiutsi said a number of businesses did not open because they were not sure what could happen next in view of the violent activities in some areas.
“Even today [Wednesday], I am in Limbe at the moment, but a number of shops are not open for business. This shows that a feeling of uncertainty is still there,” he said.
A Blantyre-based investment analyst said most of the businesses could be planning on how to respond to the election results in terms of their business plans and strategy.