Just five years after Malawi’s first multiparty elections, a 1999 survey of public attitudes reveals that the legacy of the one-party dictatorship may continue to have an important effect on people’s views. Understandings of democracy still seem to be somewhat vague, and many Malawians think they are getting as much from democracy as they can expect. Although a majority prefer democratic to non-democratic forms of government, some aspects of the old regime are still applauded by many, and most would do little to defend democracy if it were under threat.
In general, Malawians do not think that they have any means to influence the political and economic conditions affecting their lives. The perceived failure of the present government to meaningfully improve living standards since 1994 also hurts the prospects for building a strong democratic culture. Objective assessment of democracy and its values and achievements in Malawi is also strongly affected by partisan biases. Many respondents appear to have trouble distinguishing between their party preferences and support for or opposition to the democratic government. Since party support tends to break down along regional lines, the picture of public views that emerges at the national level is far different from that for each of the regions, where wide variations are apparent.