I took time off this week and had a peek at Comesa Hall in Blantyre where presumptive presidential candidates for various parties were presenting nomination papers to Malawi Electoral Commissions (MEC).
What I saw was simply the stuff of political legend. I observed huge crowds of men and women, clad in the colours of their parties, in a complete political frenzy. I could read on their ever beaming faces that they were completely convinced of the political immortality of their candidates.
I saw them sing, dance and ululate after being encouraged to do so by chief elections officer Willie Kalonga who kept on reminding his already rowdy audience that at hand was a happy occasion and not a funeral.
And the candidates did not disappoint and generally said the right things in admonishing MEC to be an impartial referee of the competition. And while at it, the candidates never forgot to take up cudgels for Malawians against opponents and highlight why they are the best deal.
As for the host, MEC chairperson, Maxon Mbendera, he was the oasis of calm and an embodiment of the whole ceremony.
In flawless English, he took the candidates through various issues pertaining to the elections this May and called upon them to be exemplary and rein on their supporters to be peaceful at all times during the process. He promised a fair and free election.
But as I sat there in Comesa Hall and took in all this frenzy and hullaballoo of the noisy party, I feared for one thing.
It is all very well that supporters are in full gear and providing the necessary colour for the present political upheaval leading to elections in May. Yet, if Malawians are not careful, this noise, which we all seem to love at the moment, can dim the crucial issues which these candidates must address if they are worthy the votes and can lead.
I am happy that slowly parties are coming up with manifestos which should contain pledges to Malawians. This should follow a healthy debate of these issues, especially in critical areas such as education, health and agriculture.
PP, for example, says in its manifesto that it is going to turn into independent universities all University of Malawi colleges. The party should be taken to task to justify this and why and how it will improve delivery of university education to our children.
The party should come out clean and tell Malawians whether this is the continuation of stripping away of the once mighty University of Malawi brand after Bunda College and NRC merged into Luanar. Is this a death knell for Unima? And what do other parties say?
UDF’s Atupele Muluzi is promising free secondary education? Is this doable and what are the figures involved and where will the money come from? Will the budget accommodate it and at what expense? Will this involve raising taxes for a few Malawians who are already groaning under the yoke of heavy taxes that seem to follow them anywhere including at work (Paye) and shops (VAT)?
What about targeted fertiliser subsidy? PP and DPP are saying they will continue with this monster programme that swallows up over 10 percent of our annual budget. UDF, on the other hand, says it will phase it out while MCP wants a universal one for every farmer.
Once again, where are the figures to show which is a better devil of the programme that is fraught with corruption in the whole chain and has been described by a World Bank report as not benefitting the poor although it was meant as a social safety measure?
So, while we are having the fun of our lives at Comesa and other campaign spots in this exciting political season, we should never allow our politicians to get away with blue murder by pledging things that are patently wrong and which will do more damage to us than at present.
Let us demand answers and clarification so that we hold them accountable when we give them power after May.