With the tripartite elections just 72 hours away, presidential candidates of the four major competing political parties—DPP, MCP, UTM and UDF—will be in their last dash for votes this afternoon before campaign freezes at 6am tomorrow.
DPP’s Peter Mutharika, Lazarus Chakwera for Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Saulos Chilima for UTM and Atupele Muluzi of the United Democratic Front (UDF), are leaving nothing to chance and will wrap up their campaign in districts with the biggest registered voters.
While Mutharika will wind up his crusade at Njamba Freedom Park in Blantyre, which registered 498 000 voters, Chakwera and Chilima, will be a few kilometres away from each other—at Civo Stadium and Likuni—in Lilongwe, respectively. Lilongwe registered 1 013 000 voters. On the other hand, UDF’s Muluzi will take his last lap to Mangochi Boma, which has 402 000 potential voters.
But the torchbearers have all ignored Mzimba which has the third biggest number of registered voters, at 478 000.
The other presidential contestants are Independent candidate Revelend Kaliya, Professor John Chisi and Peter Kuwani of Umodzi Party and Mbakuwaku Movement for Development, respectively.
Kaliya said he will be meeting Sadc [Southern Africa Development Community] and African Union (AU) officials today at Ryalls Hotel in Blantyre while Kuwani will be in Mchinji chatting with his “brothers and sisters”. Chisi could not be reached on Friday. The Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act stipulates that official campaign must close 48 hours before voting starts.
The plan for the top-four main candidates is a shift from the 2014 campaign, when all the four presidential aspirants wound up their campaign in their home areas where they also registered and voted.
In 2014, Mutharika held his last rally at his home at Goliati in Thyolo, Chakwera at Nsalu in Lilongwe, while People’s Party (PP) candidate and then State president Joyce Banda and Muluzi had their last rallies at Songani in Zomba and Ntaja in Machinga, respectively.
The parties have since described their campaigns as satisfactory, despite some of them encountering a few bottlenecks along the way.
DPP spokesperson Nicholas Dausi said on Thursday, in an interview: “We are confident of carrying the day because we believe we have successfully reached out to the masses. President Peter Mutharika has been to every corner of the country, running through what the DPP has done in five years. Malawians have all the reasons why they should vote DPP back in government.”
Looking back at the electoral process, Dausi said his party did not encounter any challenges with the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) and saluted the electoral body for the “wonderful work”.
“Perhaps, the only challenge was when some people stoned the presidential motorcade while on a whistle stop tour in Mchinji,” said Dausi, former minister of Homeland Security.
But UTM secretary general Patricia Kaliati said her party had serious reservations with MEC’s conduct after the commission failed to act on its complaints of physical assaults and removal of its flags.
“MEC and police never assisted us. Our aspirant [Joseph Chidanti-Malunga] was beaten up in Nsanje, nothing happened. In Mulanje and Blantyre, there were several incidents that were reported but MEC gave us a deaf ear,” she said..
Kaliati further said after realising that some parties were deliberately defying the Political Parties Act, UTM complained to the Registrar of Political Parties who also ignored the matter.
“Despite all these challenges, we are pleased to say that we have an assurance from Malawians that UTM is forming the next government. I am also reminding all Malawians that these elections are unique in that they will determine the future we want to have,” she said.
Chilima’s main campaign message was poverty reduction through job creation and fighting corruption.
Speaking on behalf of UDF, the party’s spokesperson Ken Ndanga said generally the process went on well and were pleased to have conducted a successful campaign.
Ndanga said their campaign had been very smooth because they focused on issue-based politics.
“Our strategy has worked very well and we are happy with the way we have implemented it,” he said.
On MEC, Ndanga explained that UDF is hoping that the electoral body will resolve all transport hiccups so that there is no repeat of the problems it faced in the 2014 polls. “Even some polling centres in Blantyre, which is close to MEC head office, did not have materials in time. We only pray we will not have a repeat of the transport hiccups that marred the 2014 elections. That is where our worry is now,” said Ndanga.
Muluzi’s main campaign message was poverty reduction through transformative leadership that understands and reaches out to the people.
MCP spokesperson Maurice Munthali said his party was encouraged by the huge turnout to the rallies the party’s leadership addressed, hoping “they also grasped the campaign messages that centred on the Chakwera High-5.”
During his rallies, Chakwera vowed to make radical changes and create Malawi a land of opportunities for all through his plan premised on servant leadership, prospering together, ending corruption, rule of law and national unity.
“Our promise has been simple; Malawi is heading towards destruction under the current leadership, so MCP is coming to bring hope to every citizen,” said Munthali.
Political scientist Ernest Thindwa from University of Malawi’s Chancellor College summed up the 2019 election campaign as “relatively better in a number of aspects” compared to previous polls.
He said unlike in the previous elections, this time politicians and parties have been more issue-focused than character assassination.
He observed that despite some pockets of electoral violence, there were fewer incidents than in 2014.
“I think competition is stiffer this time than in 2014 and this makes prediction of the outcome quite difficult and that is what democracy should be—where results cannot be predetermined.
“Where elections become predictable the electoral process loses its significance but this year it is hard totell which candidate or party will win,” said Thindwa.
In November last year, a research by Zomba-based Institute of Public Opinion and Research (Ipor) found that if elections were held in August or September 2018, the DPP and MCP presidential candidates would get 27 and 24 percent of votes, respectively.
The study also showed the UTM candidate, whose group was only two months old and had not yet been registered as a political party at that time, could have been on third place with 16 percent of votes followed by UDF with six percent.
The study’s objective was to gauge people’s views on the state of their country ahead of the May 21 2019 presidential, parliamentary and local government elections.
On her part, MEC chairperson Jane Ansah said she was confident the electoral body would resolve all the hitches they have encountered before polling day.
Ansah, who is also a judge of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, said she had no worries of delivering a credible election that will, for the first time, also see MEC using the Biometric Voter Registration system.
Slightly over 6.8 million Malawians have registered to vote on Tuesday.