After three decades of single-party rule, Malawi embraced multi-party democracy through a referendum held in June 1993. This was followed by multi-party elections in May 1994. These elections saw three parties (the Alliance for Democracy, (AFORD), the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the United Democratic Front (UDF), winning seats in the National Assembly.
Despite these momentous political changes political parties continued to operate as single, intolerant and antagonistic entities. The rivalries often led to inter-party violence that threatened the very foundations of the nascent democratic order. In an effort to reduce the increasing inter-party violence and rivalry, five political parties met with the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) in Lilongwe in early March 2003 to discuss possible cross-party partnership in the support of democracy.
This first cross party meeting was dominated by a brainstorming session highlighting some major political challenges Malawi has been facing. These included violence, intra-party and inter-party intolerance, gender inequalities in politics, and the tendency to focus on personalities rather than key issues in politics, inadequate civic education on tenets of democracy and the electoral process. At the end of this meet-ing, a multi-party committee was formed with the aim of promoting cross party dialogue to address some of the challenges highlighted. However, the multi-party committee was operating on an ad-hoc basis. Therefore, there was a need to formalize the cross party forum.
In October 2004 a workshop of the leadership of the various political parties was organised for them to develop a Strategic Plan to guide cross-party activities. The workshop further resolved to replace the ad-hoc multi-party committee with a formalized Malawi Centre for Multi-Party Democracy, a name that was later changed to Centre for Multi-party Democracy (Malawi). The Centre was registered as a trust in August, 2005.
The mission of CMD is: “Promotion of a well-functioning multipart political system and accountable political parties in Malawi”. Under Section 3.6 of Goal 3 of the Strategic Plan, CMD intends to implement activities that will ensure that women wings in political parties are functioning and that space in decision-making positions is provided to ensure that their interests are presented and effectively considered.
CMD has many years of experience working with political parties in Malawi and donor agencies, as well as civil society networks. Included in its work experience are government ministries and civil society organisations (CSOs). Key among government institutions are the Minis-try of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, the Electoral Commission and Parliament. CMD has strong local roots that enable it to provide a mixture of global trends and locally based knowledge, analysis and under-standing of democratic governance.