President Peter Mutharika on Monday ambivalently eased back into public life after weeks of seclusion and launched a fight for his political life that could also contradict his administration’s social distancing measures, including public gathering restrictions.
The President—who in an interview with taxpayer-funded Malawi Broadcasting Corporation television on Friday said he was conflicted between the need to protect people from the novel coronavirus by avoiding political rallies and the desire to campaign like the rest of his challengers to again seek a second governing mandate—tried to strike a similar balance on Monday in his first major public appearance since presenting his nomination papers on May 7.
He started by visiting the Malawi University of Science and Technology (Must) in Thyolo where students and their lecturers are designing and producing innovative products for fighting coronavirus such as ventilators, automatic water and soap dispensers, face shields, reusable face masks, hand sanitizers and developing a tracking system to prevent, minimize and contain the virus’s spread.
After the Must speech, the President went into full campaign mode in the district, holding campaign rallies at his home trading centre of Goliati then Thyolo Boma and Bvumbwe.
While the President’s visit to Must helped to remind people that the pandemic is real, Mutharika also used the opportunity as a backdrop for a veiled wish to have the fresh presidential election date shifted to beyond the July 2 2020 court-set deadline due to coronavirus.
In his prepared speech at Must, the President said: “I repeat what I have always said—coronavirus is real. Coronavirus is a crisis. Coronavirus is killing people in every country. This disease does not choose. Coronavirus can kill anyone at any time.
“That is what we are seeing everywhere. The problem we have in this country is that we are taking coronavirus lightly.”
But Mutharika could not resist infusing politics into the health-educator-in-chief mode.
Wearing no face mask during the rallies, the President still drove home his refrain that decisions the courts made recently undermine people’s democratic will and government’s ability to protect Malawians from a disease that has infected 284 people and killed four in the country while globally the pandemic has attacked at least six million and killed more than 374 000.
He said: “Our fight against coronavirus is being undermined by politics. The courts stopped us from same courts want us to go to an election. Everybody knows that I won the 2019 election! If the court had chosen to follow the law and evidence of the election case, we wouldn’t be going to another election.”going on a lockdown. The
The President claimed that the courts’ decisions—quashing his victory and ordering a new election as well as the bench’s move to grant an injunction stopping the lockdown—have encouraged everybody to campaign and undermine physical distancing measures meant to curb the virus’ spread.
“We are risking lives of innocent Malawians. With this election, we are risking lives of our children, our mothers, our fathers, our brothers and sisters.
“As President of this country, this is what I have to say: This country must choose between fighting coronavirus and going to an election. We must choose between life and death. As a country, we must make that choice,” Mutharika said.
A visibly charged Mutharika also dismissed the call by Malawi Congress Party (MCP) presidential candidate Lazaraus Chakwera, who is also Tonse Alliance torchbearer, to a debate, saying the two are not at the same level to debate.
He said: “Chakwera wants to hold a debate with me, if he wants to, then he should not debate with me, but [Charles] Mchacha, [Kondwani] Nankhumwa or [Mary] Navicha. I am not on the same level with him.”
The President also went to town on his predecessor Joyce Banda. In an apparent response to her claims that he is a drunkard, Mutharika said he takes wine, but not local distil (kachasu).
“She says I drink kachasu, but I don’t. I don’t drink that, I only drink wine. Actually, red wine,” he said and used unpalatable words to describe Banda’s persona.
But reacting to Mutharika and Banda’s verbal tirade, governance commentator Makhumbo Munthali described it as unfortunate that two senior leaders in the country are trading such offensive words.
He said: “This does not reflect well on them and should be strongly condemned. Malawians are tired of politics of insults and poverty of ideas. Let them focus on real issues—issue-based campaign.”