Manifestos outline a political party’s vision, mission, goals, policies and programmes for a given election period.
They are intended to inform and persuade the voters about the party’s agenda and commitments.
They also guide and monitor the party’s performance in office.
Party manifestoes are crucial in enhancing the credibility of elections and the socioeconomic development of a country if well-designed, implemented and evaluated.
First, the document promotes transparency, accountability and competition in the electoral process.
The contesting parties disclose their sources of funding, candidates’ qualifications, policies and expected outcomes.
Accountability means that the parties have to deliver their promises and explain any deviations or failures.
Competition means that the parties offer different alternatives to the voters, based on evidence and public interest.
Adhering to these principles, manifestoes can increase voters’ confidence in the electoral system and the legitimacy of the elected.
Second, manifestoes address the socio-economic needs, aspirations and rights of the people, especially the marginalised and vulnerable.
Manifestoes propose policies and programmes to improve the quality of life of the people, including income generation, education, health, environment, security and participation.
Parties propose policies and programmes that are inclusive, equitable, sustainable and human rights-based to foster social cohesion, reduce poverty and inequality, protect the environment and enhance human dignity.
However, manifestoes are not enough to ensure credible elections and socio-economic development.
They require effective implementation and evaluation mechanisms involving various stakeholders, including the government, Parliament, civil society, media, academia, and international community.
The parties have to translate their manifestoes into concrete actions and allocate adequate resources for their execution.
They also have to monitor and assess progress and impact using relevant indicators and feedback mechanisms.
Evaluation makes political parties in power responsive to changing circumstances and accountable.
Therefore, manifestoes provide a clear and coherent framework for guiding and measuring the performance of ruling parties.
They create a platform for dialogue and engagement between political parties and their supporters as well as other concerned actors.
This helps enhance democracy and governance.
But manifestoes in the country are dogged by numerous challenges, including the following:
1. Parties struggle to secure sufficient funding to support their activities, including campaign efforts, infrastructure development and capacity building.
Limited financial resources hinder their ability to effectively compete and engage with voters
2. Many political parties struggle to build robust party structures and effective grassroots organisations. Weak internal structures lead to disorganisation, poor coordination and difficulties in mobilising supporters and volunteers
3.Many political parties struggle to articulate distinct ideological positions and policy platforms, making it challenging to differentiate themselves and attract supporters
4. Ethnic and regional divisions hinder efforts to build broad-based support and foster a sense of national unity, leading to fragmented party systems
5. Limited inclusivity and diversity, including underrepresentation of women, the youth, and marginalised groups, is a common challenge that alienates significant portions of the population
6. Political violence and intimidation negatively impact political parties. During campaigns, conflicts between rival party supporters and harassment of opposition members cundermine trust in the political process and discourage participation
7. Public trust in political parties in Malawi is often low due to perceived corruption, nepotism, and unfulfilled promises. Restoring and maintaining trust is crucial for political parties to effectively engage with voters and gain their support
8. Political parties grapple to access media platforms and hardly receive fair and balanced coverage.Media bias and unequal coverage influence public perception and hinder parties’ ability to effectively communicate their messages
However, manifestos provide a clear and coherent framework for dialogue between political parties and their supporters, even critics.