African electorates are expected to use non-evaluative rationales, like patronage and ethnicity, when casting their vote. In famine-struck countries like Malawi it is however worthwhile to investigate how a salient political issue like food security influences voters’ decisions. At the turn of the millennium Malawi went through a series of famines. In 2005 the government changed its famine prevention strategy and started to subsidise fertilisers. The fertiliser programme was a political success and is used to explain the outcome of the 2009 elections. Although this explanation seems plausible, such analyses should be grounded in thorough analyses of the origin and implementation of the food policy. Through archival studies and fieldwork, this study reveals the importance of the opposition in changing the food policy and the politics of the implementation process. Hence, even if food security increased ahead of the 2009 elections, the election cannot be interpreted as a ‘national referendum’ on the incumbent's fertiliser programme.

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