It was an honour and privilege this week, as our country inches toward the second tripartite elections, to be invited on Wednesday to the Voice of America (VOA) Straight Talk show with Shaka Ssali and Limbani Kamanga, eight days before Malawi’s elections.
It was indeed a momentous occasion for me to speak about my country. The recorded session can be viewed on Facebook and other VOA social media platforms.
As is my tradition, I had conducted a mini research from various analysts; I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of their views on this campaign season in Malawi.
On the issues of the political climate in Malawi during this time, most of the people I asked said these elections are the most contested. However, the battle is really between Malawi Congress Party (MCP) presidential candidate Lazarus Chakwera, serving Vice-President and UTM Party hopeful Saulos Chilima and incumbent President and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leader Peter Mutharika.
Many people see the actions of some DPP followers desperate by resorting to threats and intimidation of even innocent people.
This raises the question that in such a scenario, will the elections be free? Will they be fair? While Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Justice Dr. Jane Ansah confidently asserts that yes, the elections will be free and fair, my fellow journalist Levi Manda thinks otherwise.
He elaborates that the elections, on the one hand, can be said to be free because all eligible voters who registered will be free to vote. He, however, cast doubt on whether the elections will be fair because the DPP, which is in government, continues to use public resources in its campaign and is dominating the public broadcaster.
Then, on the matter of playing by the rules, some observers highlighted that the new Political Parties Act was being flouted. Reports are also rife that DPP supporters are pulling down opposition party campaign materials and flags and disrupting rallies held by the opposition parties.
Of greater concern is the actions, or lack of it, of law enforcement officers such as the police. In the past two years, people living with albinism have been hunted and killed. The law enforcement in the country have failed to live up to the standard of protecting all Malawians.
On the other hand, the opposition political parties are playing by the rules for fear of retribution by the Mutharika administration. One observer said he viewed the DPP as having gone into panic mode.
The opposition are also showing mature politics because they all participated in the political debates. Both Mutharika and his running mate snubbed the debates. Mutharika snubbed two other occasions, namely the prayer and the peace signing meetings. Mutharika did hold a prayer session at State House, however, the opposition did not attend.
The public broadcaster MBC has been the biggest chameleon in democratic Malawi, forever playing the master’s voice. Although MEC ordered MBC to give equal time to all political parties, this is not followed to the letter and there are numerous programs that are against the opposition. One programme that stood out is Sapita Kawiri.
If ever people were grateful for social media and independent broadcasting media houses, this is the time. Because where MBC closes its doors to opposition parties, the independent media outlets have soared like the eagle and taken on opposition party rally coverage, enabling this sector to evolve to greater heights.
Ansah believes that her organisation is professional and is fulfilling its mandate. I asked what challenges does the MEC have? Ansah was quick to respond that one major challenge the MEC faces is fake news. On this MEC director of media and public relations Sangwani Mwafulirwa asks all stakeholders to check information on the elections with the electoral body.
Lastly, 60 percent of Malawi’s voters are youths, and adding to this number of voters are women, and political parties, along with the MEC have carried out civic and voter education exercises, to prepare the electorate.
As Malawians go to the polls, may genuine democracy reign supreme in our land!