President Joyce Banda has threatened to boycott debates for presidential candidates scheduled for next month, after she and her People’s Party (PP) accused Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) of favouring MCP in the running mates’ debates, sources in the organising committee have confided in Nation on Sunday.
Following the accusations the party made against ZBS, PP running mate Sosten Gwengwe boycotted the subsequent debate held at Comesa International Conference Centre in Blantyre on March 21.
Sources in the task force organising the debates said the President argued that ZBS was bent on embarrassing the ruling party by campaigning for MCP using the public debates.
“The President feels Zodiak favoured MCP [during the first phase] and was out to embarrass her party. For her and PP, the debates are a Zodiak thing,” said a source who attended a stakeholders’ meeting organising the debates in Blantyre this week.
The President communicated her stand through some members of the task force organising the debates.
Some of the organisers of the debates are MBC, Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), National Democratic Institute (NDI), Public Affairs Committee (PAC), Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), National Media Institute for Southern Africa (Namisa), Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn), Mtendere Electoral Support Network (Mesn), Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD), Centre for Multiparty democracy (CMD) and the Young Politicians Union (YPU).
According to sources, the tentative dates for the debates are April 8 for all small parties participating in the May 20 elections while the big parties will battle it out on April 15 and April 22.
“All the small parties will hold their presidential debate on April 8. The big parties will first meet on April 15 in Lilongwe before holding another debate in Blantyre on April 22.
“We are yet to officially announce the dates because we are still waiting for funding from Osisa [Open Society for Southern Africa]. We have not even identified the venues for the debates because there is no money. Once we are through with the logistics, we will make the official announcement,” said one of the sources.
While not confirming the President’s threats to boycott the debates, PP acting secretary general Paul Maulidi said the party has its own strategies of selling its ideologies and development agenda to the electorate to win the elections and not through presidential debates.
But Maulidi said they are yet to be officially approached by organisers of the debate, adding that unless they are assured of the debates’ neutrality, they will not participate.
“We have just launched our campaign today [today] and that was one way of communicating to the people about our agendas and not the presidential debates. Until we are assured that they will be conducted in unbiased manner, then we still have reservations,” he said.
Maulidi also questioned the motive of the organisers of the debates who he accused of sidetracking from real issues to attack government.
“What is their intention, to hear what our parties will articulate or embarrass our presidents? You don’t organise public debates to castigate each other. Instead of debating real developmental issues, you talk about Cashgate, Cashgate as if it is a new phenomenon that has been initiated by the People’s Party administration,” said Maulidi.
Chairperson and spokesperson of the organising task force Anthony Kasunda said they have not yet approached political parties on the matter.
“In the first place, the taskforce organising the presidential debates has not yet started engaging major stakeholders who are political parties. So, it is not true that the PP presidential candidate has or is contemplating to boycott the debates,” said Kasunda.
He said the debates are not being organised by ZBS, but a special task force comprising members of civil society organisations and other interested groups.