Freedom in the World
While President Bingu wa Mutharika and the Democratic Progressive Party enjoyed a commanding position in the political system, concerns emerged in 2010 about the subservience of the legislature to the executive branch. The government continued its heavy-handed approach toward critics, and threats to media independence, nongovernment organizations, and freedom of assembly remained major concerns throughout the year. Following considerable international outcry, a gay couple sentenced to fourteen years in prison received a pardon from President Mutharika in May.
Malawi is an electoral democracy. The president is directly elected for five-year terms and exercises considerable executive authority. The unicameral National Assembly is composed of 193 members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms. The 2009 presidential and parliamentary elections, though characterized by an uneven playing field in favor of the incumbents, were the most fair and competitive since the first multiparty elections in 1994. While opposition groups had questioned the impartiality and legitimacy of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) in previous years, key observers concluded that it operated with sufficient transparency during the 2009 elections. Some concerns have arisen over delays in holding local government elections, which have not been held since district-level assemblies were dissolved in 2005. In apparent contravention of a court order, the president suspended and closed the MEC in December 2010 after an audit report revealed that large sums of money allocated to run the 2009 elections remained unaccounted for.