There are some people in the country who have always wondered what the official campaign period of the May 20 Tripartite Elections will look like. Well, this is it.
The country is now full circle in the jazz of campaign. Which political party is not busy holding rallies, conducting whistle-stop tours, attending funerals and urging its candidates to relocate to their constituencies?
In the past few weeks, we have seen the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) selling its leader, Lazarus Chakwera, to the Southern Region—a trade that saw the party getting in touch with voters from hard-to-reach areas such as Marka in Nsanje and Chapananga in Chikhwawa.
Even when MCP spokesperson Jessie Kabwila insisted that this was not a campaign trail but just a ‘reach out’, Chakwera never missed the opportunity to say “vote for me because I have great plans for developing this country.”
We have also seen the Katsonga brothers, Mark and Davis, in the media discussing the alleged criss-crossing of members between the two parties. Wow! Each one of them says he should be voted into power and, just like Chakwera, they have great development plans for Malawi.
Like other parties, UDF has taken Atupele Muluzi to the Centre and North promising an Agenda for Change. Never mind that up to now, nobody, including party members themselves, can explain what the agenda stands for. All Atupele wants is the presidency. Why? He, too, has great development plans.
Or, just think about Umodzi Party’s (UP) John Chisi. I covered his Eastern Region tour, where, on two occasions, we lost our way to reach far-flung Sosola in western Machinga, an area where a local chief said that no party president has ever visited.
Of course, in all the four spots we stopped, Chisi—who says he is too smart and big to contest as an MP—left people with more questions than answers as to who he is and what he stands for. Yet, this did not stop him from seeking their vote because Malawi needs an ‘educated man like him.’
I cannot talk about the ruling People’s Party (PP). We all know what the party has been doing— distributing cows and shoes—and we understand the party’s motives. President Joyce Banda wants to continue because she, too, ‘has a heart for poor and suffering Malawians.’
Of course, these parties held their conventions where they unveiled their policy directions but I am not sure whether Friday Jumbe’s New Labour Party (NLP) and Kamuzu Chibambo’s Petra are seriously selling themselves. But they, too, have been quoted over and over again saying they have great development plans.
I know if it was not for Peter Mutharika’s alleged fulfilment of Green Card requirements in the US, DPP could, by now, have intensified its nationwide campaign. The party’s message, again, is simple: ‘Return us into power to continue with our development programme’.
So, in the drudgery and chaos of the campaign, quite a chaotic season where everybody is saying they have great development plans. Who, then, should be given the leadership?
What is interesting in this campaign trail is that all these political parties are clear on where they want to take Malawi: to development.
But what is disturbing is that none among these parties is saying anything different from the other on the means of getting Malawi to development.
For instance, I have been particularly interested in these parties’ policy directions regarding the question of food security. My interest has been driven by two proven variables. Availability of food affects inflation level at the macro-level; and, two, on the micro-level, it reduces the level of destitution and desperation among locals, especially in rural areas.
The gist of my interest has been to see how political parties are debating the viability of the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) as a continued means of achieving lasting food security.
For the past five years, Fisp, despite its recordable success, has failed and continues do so, to prove that is the right and sustainable means of achieving lasting food security in the country.
How do you spend K40 billion subsiding input for 1.5 million people to be food secure, only to end up during the lean season with a situation where we need K48 billion to feed 1.8 million going without food?
Unfortunately, there has not been a bold political party which, so far, has come out blunt and honest on the question of Fisp as the right means of achieving lasting food security in Malawi. All of them are saying one thing: it is a good programme which just needs modifications and curbing corruption involved in the policy initiative.
So, on what basis, then, should I vote for MCP or DPP over PP or UDF? Or voting for Chisi or Jumbe over the Katsonga brothers?
Fisp is just an example. There are a number of dysfunctional policy issues that I expect political parties to disagree on, yet they do not. What I have observed is that all political parties do not differ on programmatic positions. You cannot separate UDF from DPP on policy preferences.
To be honest, all these parties care about are two office-related goals: short-term electoral security and access to government. This is why most politicians use parties not as a way to join ideologically like-minded colleagues, but as a vehicle to be harnessed or abandoned depending on its usefulness towards those two short-term goals.
So, if you ask me about the nature of this year’s official campaign period, I will tell you, unless you demand issues from our politicians, do not expect substance. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the season of emptiness!