(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Voters feel traditional leaders do a better job

[Malawi] Elections (Ballot box).

Voter apathy is setting in as Malawians begin to feel neglected and faith in elected public officials plummets. A new report says they increasingly prefer traditional leaders.

"About 74 percent of the interviewees felt chiefs were more interested in their welfare than politicians", said an ongoing survey of people's expectations, aspirations and general attitudes regarding elections and politicians by the Centre for Social Research, which used the draft findings of a report, 'The Institutional Context of The 2004 General Elections', as a basis for comparison.

The continuing research also showed a reduced response to political activities such as public rallies and campaign meetings: only about 44 percent of interviewees said they had participated in the 2003 referendum and the subsequent 2004 general elections.

Nandini Patel, senior political science lecturer at the University of Malawi, said the subsequent findings amounted to "a vote of no confidence" in elected public officials.

"These projections are a serious indication that Malawians, especially in rural areas, no longer see the need for voting, and if civic awareness is not raised soon the situation may lead to high voter apathy in the 2008 general elections," Patel told IRIN.

She said a lack of developmental programmes at community level, unfulfilled campaign promises and the long absence of members of Parliament (MPs) from their constituencies could have contributed to the change in attitude.

Deputy Information minister John Bande acknowledged a changing public perception of elected officials in some places but denied it was an overall national picture.

He said the authorities were taking practical steps to increase civic awareness and ensure that MPs visited their constituencies more often. Malawian parliamentarians are based in the capital, Lilongwe, and there have been complaints that they rarely their electorates.

"Some of our MPs, especially from the opposition, have not been visiting their constituencies regularly, mainly because of limited resources," Bande said. "Our national parliament is doing everything possible to review their salaries and ensure their constituency fuel allowances are revised to meet the current high cost of fuel."

Malawi had been a one-party state since the late 1960s until domestic and international pressure forced multiparty elections in 1994.

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