Findings of The Cost of Politics in Malawi Survey confirm that it is not cheap to vie for political office as the 1 333 parliamentary aspirants on average spent K14.8 million each to woo voters this year.
Collectively, if the K14.8 million is anything to go by, parliamentary candidates in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections spent a whopping K19.7 billion.
The amount is about eight percent of the budget for the country’s 35 local government councils pegged at K256.5 billion in the 2019/20 National Budget.
Jointly conducted by Michigan State University (United States of America), Aarhus University (Denmark), Institute for Policy Interaction (IPI) of Malawi and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) of the United Kingdom, the survey was conducted from June to September this year and had a sample of 375 randomly selected parliamentary candidates in this year’s elections.
In response to the question ‘how much does it cost to run for Parliament?’, the survey established that on average K14.8 million ($20 200) was spent seeking election (party primaries and general elections combined).
Reads a summary of the findings: “This number [amount] includes all candidates, even those with little or no chance of being elected.
“Looking only at candidates that won [obtained] more than 20 percent of the vote, the average is K27 million [$36 700]. This amount equals 140 percent of an MP’s annual salary.”
Further, the findings indicate that 62 out of every 100 candidates spent more than they had expected while male candidates spent 14 percent more than female candidates.
In terms of political parties, the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) spent 48 percent more than UTM Party candidates and 61 percent more than Malawi Congress Party (MCP) aspirants.
Broken down by the country’s three administrative regions, candidates in the populous Southern Region spent 46 percent more resources than their Central Region counterparts and 53 percent above candidates in the Northern Region.
Further reads the survey report: “Candidates spent large sums of money in both primaries and general elections. The average candidate spent K5.2 million [$7 100] in primaries [if they had to compete] and K11.7 million [$15 900] in the general elections.”
In the general elections campaign, the report found that candidates spend more on organising rallies and related campaign activities, engaging in constituency development projects, procuring party material and monitoring elections.
Regardless of political party affiliation, the survey also found that parliamentary election campaigns are mostly self-funded by candidates with the average candidate drawing 83 percent of their campaign resources from personal sources.
Reads the report: “Candidates standing for DPP received a larger share of their campaign resources from their party than candidates from other parties, but DPP campaigns are also, generally, more expensive [particularly primaries].”
How much do political parties assist the candidates?
The survey established that political parties do not help the candidates much as the average candidate affiliated to a party received K3.3 million [$4 500] worth of support in form of cash, goods and services.
In terms of individual political parties’ support to candidates, the survey found: “The average DPP candidate received more than five times as much support [from the party] than the average UTM candidate [the opposition party that gave the most support].”
The survey also confirmed fears that prohibition of handouts did not work during the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections campaign despite the Political Parties Act of 2018 being in place.
“More than 96 percent of the candidates state that at least one candidate in their constituency used handouts to voters and chiefs in their campaigns.
“As many as 95 percent of all candidates either ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’ with the statement that more civic education is needed to inform voters on the implications of the handouts prohibition and a majority of candidates [53 percent] believe that the distinction between a handout and legitimate distribution of campaign material is not clear,” further reads the report.
In the parliamentary race, there were 1 333 candidates for 193 seats in the National Assembly with independent candidates soaring to 501 from 417 in 2014. DPP featured 192, UTM Party had 192 candidates, MCP 189, United Democratic Front (UDF) 124 and People’s Party (PP) fielded 81, according to Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC). There were also other candidates for smaller parties.
In the actual elections, big spending DPP got 62 seats while the second major spender UTM Party won four seats and the third big spender MCP had 55 seats. Ironically, UDF, despite a low budget, won 10 seats—six more than UTM—while PP had five and independents won 55.
Speaking during the dissemination of the survey findings in Lilongwe yesterday, Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament Aisha Adams said the study reflected the situation on the ground and that candidates spend more than the indicated amounts.
But she said getting elected goes beyond money as voters also look at character, behaviour and the candidate’s connection with them.
Said Adams: “It’s very costly and expensive in Malawian politics for one to become a member of Parliament. One needs to spend a lot and sometimes unnecessarily. Apart from the money, there are other moral issues.”
Michael Wahman, assistant professor for the department of political science at Michigan State University, said the high cost of political campaign financing remains discriminatory to those who cannot afford the money.
He said: “This [high spending] shows how important money in politics has become in Malawi. The question is: If you spend such huge amounts of money on a campaign, what is it that you expect in return?
“It’s hard to know because people are driven by different motives. There are some leaders who want to make a difference in their communities. There are others interested in holding a status as member of Parliament and there are others who wish to recoup such kind of investments through business opportunities that they believe exist in holding a parliamentary seat.”
IPI chairperson and lead researcher of the study Nandini Patel said the study was instituted to find out how much candidates spend when vying for parliamentary seats and come up with information for decision-makers.
Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD) chairperson Ibrahim Matola agreed with the findings that most parliamentary candidates need huge amounts to spend in campaign.
He said: “We need to operationalise the Political Parties Act if we are to solve some of the issues mentioned in the report. For instance, spending a lot on handouts… we still have our electoral laws which are scattered but we need to synchronise them to be speaking to each other.”
The Political Parties Act, rolled out on December 1 2018, outlaws handouts, among other provisions. However, non-compliance went unchecked during the recent elections with authorities suggesting no one lodged a complaint.