Malawians will cast their votes tomorrow to choose a president, 193 legislators and 462 ward councillors amid guidance from the clergy for voters to elect honest leaders who will promote the best interests of the country.
With the May 21 Tripartite Elections barely hours away, the clergy have avoided making candidate endorsements to influence or guide the 6.8 million registered voters.
In a statement dated May 18 2019, Bishop John Ryan of Mzuzu Diocese of the Catholic Church asked voters to refrain from being influenced by regional or tribal considerations in their vote, saying the country needs honest, decisive, respectful, law-abiding and transformative leaders to lift it from poverty.
The bishop also distanced himself from campaign materials that circulated on the social media on Friday with a picture of him and one of the presidential candidates. The message on the poster purported that Ryan had endorsed the particular candidate.
Reads Ryan’s statement: “May I also take this opportunity to denounce all the materials going around, claiming that me, together with my fellow bishops, have endorsed a particular candidate. We the bishops have written a letter that distances us from such claims.”
Ryan’s letter followed a similar one issued by the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) signed by the leadership of the Catholic Church in the country.
Reads the statement: “We, the Catholic bishops in Malawi, wish to state in clear terms that we have not and shall not support or endorse any candidate or political party.”
The ECM statement is jointly signed by its chairperson and Archbishop Thomas Msusa of Blantyre Archdiocese, vice-chairperson Bishop Martin Mtumbuka (Karonga Diocese), Archbishop Tarsizio Ziyaye (Lilongwe Archdiocese), bishops Ryan, Peter Musikuwa (Chikwawa) Montfort Stima (Mangochi), George Tambala (Zomba) and Dedza Diocese diocesan administrator John Chithonje.
Recently, Mtumbuka challenged the electorate to free themselves from “this slavery and dehumanising poverty” by voting for leaders who can change the country’s direction.
During a Mass at St Joseph the Worker Cathedral in Karonga, the bishop urged Malawians not to vote for corrupt leaders.
In April 2018, Catholic bishops said Malawi needs a change of direction, lamenting that the hard-won democracy was not yielding the fruits people anticipated.
The Pastoral Letter observed that 54 years after independence, Malawians were still wallowing in poverty as few “exercise power and enjoy wealth at the expense of the majority”.
In their 16-page Pastoral Letter titled ‘A Call For A New Era In Malawi’, the bishops said: “We are of the opinion that Malawi, as a nation, needs a change of direction if we are to reverse the situation.”
Besides the Catholic bishops, other faith groups have also spoken on the need for Malawians to turn up to vote and choose leaders based on abilities.
On May 16, the Church and Society Programme of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) Synod of Livingstonia urged its flock to balance the desire to support political parties of their choice and the need to elect candidates they believe are “upright, capable and who will honour God”.
Reads the letter signed by the programme’s executive director Moses Mkandawire: “In doing so, we would do well to look for leaders who are visionary and courageous, who act with integrity and humility, who work with focus and strategic plans and engage others through genuine cooperation and effective communication.”
In a telephone interview yesterday, CCAP Blantyre Synod general secretary the Reverend Alex Maulana said while the synod is encouraging its members to vote, it would not guide the flock on attributes for leaders to vote for.
He said: “We understand as a church that all people have strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, we cannot spell out a few attributes because there is no one who is complete.
“We are also calling on candidates and parties to accept the results when they are out and teach their supporters tolerance.”
On April 29, Nkhoma Synod of CCAP issued Pastoral Letter which it said reflected the synod’s “candid thoughts” on the prevailing situation in the country and not pandering to the whims of any politician.
In an interview in the wake of the Pastoral Letter themed An Opportunity to Choose a Leader With Good Reputation, Full of the Holy Spirit and Wisdom (Acts 6:3), Nkhoma Synod general secretary the Reverend Vasco Kachipapa said the synod was surprised to learn that some people were disturbed by the tone and content of the letter.
He said: “I categorically refute rumours that the synod was pandering to the whims of any politician.”
The synod’s letter, read out in its 203 churches across the Central Region, said the leader to be entrusted with power in the elections should be one that will respect the Constitution, has no record of corruption, will unify Malawians and will not protect thieves and looters of public resources.
On his part, Sheikh Dinala Chabulika, speaking on behalf of Muslim Association of Malawi, appealed to Malawians to observe peace during and after the elections.
He said: “We hope people will go out in large numbers to vote for candidates who are God-fearing, development-oriented and those that promote politics of inclusion.”
The clergy command influence in the country and have proved an influential voice since the advent of plural politics in 1993. The Public Affairs Committee (PAC), a multi-faith grouping of the clergy, has over the years remained an active player in the country’s political discourse. n