The split within Malawi’s ruling party in 2005 offers an opportunity to investigate underlying perspectives about what it means to belong to a political party in a new democracy. Although a mirage of a three-party system emerged after the first multiparty election in the early nineties, Malawi is a typical case where the fluidity of party membership is an ongoing process. By reading the existing literature on party affiliation in democratising states, one would expect that rank-and-file members of the political parties easily defect when a new ruling party is formed. This qualitative analysis of the responses from 54 political activists only to some extent supports this perspective, as the findings show a high degree of variation in party loyalty. About 39% defected, which provides limited support to the exiting literature on new democracies that shows how party affiliation is affected by leadership-centred parties and the dominance of the presidency. About 41% did, however, remain loyal. The in-depth interviews carried out with the loyal supporters revealed the importance of acknowledging the high level of partisanship in the electorate. This suggests that many decided to not change party affiliation because they tried to follow the changing sentiments in the electorate.
Key words: Democratic decentralisation, party affiliation, local politics, Malawi.
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