The General elections were due to be held for the Legislative Council in Nyasaland on 28 April 1964. These would have been the first in the country under universal suffrage.
The general roll was to elect 50 members while the special roll had three seats reserved for Europeans to be elected as members of parliament. A total of 1,871,790 people had registered to vote (including 814 Europeans for the special roll).
There were no opposition candidates to either the Malawi Congress Party in the general roll seats and the Nyasaland Constitutional Party (formerly United Federal Party) in the special roll. The Nyasaland Asian Convention had dissolved itself and declared its support for the MCP in the general roll or the Nyasaland Constitutional Party in the special roll resulting in all 53 candidates winning without votes being cast on the polling day.
The opposition coalition party called Mbadwa led by Gilbert Pondeponde had pulled out of the race following acts of terror, violence, and intimidation unleashed by MCP’s hoodlums across the country.
By the end of 1963, villagers in Mulanje and Thyolo districts calling themselves Land Freedom Army had begun to encroach on the estates to the embarrassment of the MCP leadership. Their discontentment had been mirrored by that of smallholders in Lilongwe and Dowa districts who were disappointed by low prices for tobacco and maize despite Dr. Kamuzu Banda’s well-publicized reforms. At six markets, dissatisfied tobacco growers staged one-day boycotts.
Furthermore, across the country, the first serious economic depression since World War 2 was making its presence felt.
Against this backdrop, the start of the campaign activities in late 1963 was marked by a wave of political violence perpetrated by MCP.
As Dr.Kamuzu Banda rightly noted in December 1963, he was under no obligation to an election before independence (the assembly elected in 1961 did not need to be dissolved until 1966).
However, by agreeing to an election, he could mobilise popular support and isolate small group of political opponents that remained headed by Pemba Ndovi and largely organised in the coalition party Mbadwa.
In what was to become a standard form, Dr. Kamuzu Banda denounced opposition figures by name before declaring:
“I want them to come forward now and put up candidates and see what is going to happen to them”
Within days after Dr. Kamuzu Banda’s statement, acts of terror and violence against Mbadwa members began, culminating in the killing of Gilbert Pondeponde on Christimas eve of 1963.
By early January 1964, virtually every opposition leader had fled the country and it had become clear that all MCP candidates would be returned unopposed and hence that no formal elections would be held.
Nevertheless, MCP organised a huge registration campaign that combined genuine popular enthusiasm with frequent cases of assault. At Magomero and other parts of the country, youth leaguers drove away people who did not have MCP cards from registering for the polls. Independent trade unionists were subjected to vitriolic abuse.
Following discussions with Dr. Kamuzu Banda, Foster the Chief Secretary ordered the interception of postal communication for the fierce critics of Dr. Kamuzu Banda among them renowned trade union leaders by the names of Chakufwa Chihana, Suzgo Msiska and eight organisations including all opposition parties.
Chakufwa Chihana, Suzgo Msiska and other trade union leaders eventually fled to exile.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Mc. Cracken, J. (2012). A History of Malawi, 1859-1966.