After three hours, six candidates seeking presidential office appeared not to suffer any exhaustion from a gruesome last presidential debate but listed big and bold promises to deliver the country to the Promised Land.
The final debate, which was themed around youth empowerment, was moderated by Reverend Patrick Semphere. The majority of the candidates upped their game—delivering various policy changes that varied but all touted as panacea to the woes facing the country.
While differing in style, most of the major candidates shared substance, pledging leadership of integrity, tackling endemic corruption, a conciliatory government that will work with current rivals, good governance, better implementation of development plans and prudent financial management, among other issues.
On the question about their first 100 days in office, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) candidate Lazarus Chakwera said his will prioritise fighting corruption,
end abuse of State broadcaster, Malawi Broadcasting Cooperation (MBC), and operationalise the Access to Information (ATI) law to improve good governance, among others.
“In the first 100 days, we will stop some things and start new ones although we realise that government is a continuous process. Stop theft and corruption, end abuse of MBC by ruling parties and the Access to Information Act will be implemented.
“We will also revamp Admarc to ensure it serves the public, reduce powers of the presidency by trimming powers in appointment of people in offices, tackle killings and abductions of people with albinism,” said Chakwera.
One of his main rivals for the presidency and current Vice-President Saulos Chilima of the UTM said the party will prioritise the fight against graft, reducing government expenditure and put in place measures for economic growth.
Said Chilima: “We will start with 30 days amnesty of the thieves; then we will rejuvenate the civil service and youth empowerment programmes so that as we reach 200 days we can move towards creating one million jobs. We will reduce the presidential convoy to six vehicles, end the quota system (of education).”
While United Democratic Front’s Atupele Muluzi, who signalled he was abandoning his confrontational approach to the debate witnessed in the previous debate by wishing Chakwera happy birthday in his first statement, said the former ruling party if ushered back in government will focus on tackling corruption in government by improving the public finance management systems.
“In the first 100 days, I will lead from the front as your leader and we will focus on results. The problem with corruption is that we have been dealing with the symptom and not the cause,” said Muluzi.
the key question on what choices their leadership will make to deliver the
country from the current woes, Muluzi said his government will seek to restore
their dignity by creating a feedback mechanism between the masses and
government to ensure even the ultra-poor are taken care of, while Chakwera said
MCP will tackle abject poverty by promoting education starting with early child
depoliticising the civil service, creating a culture of rewarding efficiency and productivity, among others.
Chilima said his government would strive to implement good policies that currently are not being implemented and promised a new vision for Malawi, to replace Vision 2020.
On incorporating ideas from their electoral rivals, Muluzi, still working as Health Minister, told the audience he was an embodiment of consensus building politics by accepting to work with his rivals’ governments. Chakwera said he will consult the opposition regularly, ensure the National Planning Commission (NPC) is non-partisan and appear before Parliament as well as appoint an inclusive Cabinet while Chilima said he will continue some ongoing development plans and review others for inclusion in a new vision 2050.
Apart from Muluzi, Chakwera and Chilima, Umodzi Party’s John Chisi, Peter Kuwani of Mbakuwaku Movement for Democracy (MMD) and Independent candidate Reverend Hardwick Kaliya were the other candidates who participated in the debate while incumbent President Peter Mutharika of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Tisinthe Alliance candidate Cassim Chilumpha did not participate in the debate.
Both Kuwani and Kaliya also pledged to address corruption and soaring foreign debt, urging for a new spirit of self-reliance while Chisi, at different intervals, questioned the credibility of the promises by the major candidates, noting that they had mostly been in positions of influence, but failed to deliver.
Commenting on the candidates’ performance during the debate last night, University of Livingstonia political scientist George Phiri observed that the candidates were still looking at Malawi with basic needs.
“Much of the emphasis for each and every candidate was on addressing basic needs. My expectation was that they would go beyond that. For instance, they talked about a new Malawi where young people will find employment, but I did not hear any of them clearly explaining what they would do to create jobs and business opportunities for youths. In other words, all the aspirants did not answer the how question,” said Phiri.
He observed that it was unfortunate that all the candidates failed to tackle how they would address the problems and also clearly outline their strategies by “going beyond the livelihood of today”.
example, we all know Malawi’s economy is dependent on agriculture and my
was that they would go beyond food security issues to where we could see Malawians producing enough surplus for consumption by industries,” he said.
But on his part, political and social commentator Paul Chiphwanya gave the candidates a mixed bag, saying there were some issues they “articulated quite well and were so clear” while they missed on others.
“I felt they did not comprehensively tackle certain issues. Some candidates seemed to have been caught off guard and responded without being specific about what they were going to do to address problems facing Malawi,” he said.
Chiphwanya said a case in point was on the question of what the candidates would do in their first 100 days in office.
“I felt certain things that some candidates uttered may not be achievable within 100 days,” he said.
He said it was also evident that almost all candidates were fully aware of the problems rocking the country, but they have never thought about the best ways of tackling them.
“They, thus, failed to provide clear guidance on how such problems can be resolved. They ended up responding using the blanket term of ‘mindset change’, observed Chiphwanya, a former national coordinator of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP).
Last night’s presidential debate tackled a number of emerging issues with the focus being on youth-related issues, including population growth, opportunities for the youth, private sector development, infrastructure, climate change and sustainable development.
Youths constitute more than half of the 8.6 million people who registered as voters in this year’s election and, according to chairperson of the debate’s organising task force Teresa Ndanga, the youth vote would be very critical in the elections.
“The privileges that we are enjoying today as voters will only be exercised again in 2024,” she said.
She urged voters to seriously consider who they would vote for during the May 21 elections.
The 2019 presidential debates taskforce consisted of Misa-Malawi, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), Times Group and Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS).
Others were Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD), Democracy Works Foundation (DWF), Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet), Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), Malawi Law Society (MLS), Public Affairs Committee (PAC), Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust, and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). n