Influential politicians from both sides of the divide at the weekend continued to conduct election campaign rallies in a business as usual manner in defiance of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) precautionary measures, especially social distancing.
Tonse Alliance presidential candidate Lazarus Chakwera, who is Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president and his running mate Saulos Chilima—who is UTM Party leader and the country’s estranged Vice-President—and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and United Democratic Front (UDF) alliance running mate Atupele Muluzi threw caution to the wind as they addressed gatherings of beyond the prescribed 100 people.
In all the gatherings, both the leaders and their audiences defied social distancing and hand-washing, some of the essential measures towards preventing the spread of Covid 19, a pandemic that has already affected 56 people in Malawi with three deaths.
While hand-washing facilities such as water, soap and buckets were provided during the nine-political party Tonse Alliance Mega Rally in Mzuzu, a majority of the people hardly used them.
Even the leaders themselves did not mind the minimum recommended one-metre social distance as they sat close to each other. However, the microphone was sanitised after each speaker used it.
Taking her turn, UTM Party secretary general Patricia Kaliati alleged that some people with ailments such as asthma and hypertension (high blood pressure) were being diagnosed as testing positive for Covid-19.
She said: “There are people right now who are failing to pay duty at the border because of high duty rates you impose on their imports. Between them [the importers] and you who are stealing money in the name of Covid by writing asthma and high blood pressure as Covid, who is stealing from government?
“If there is Covid, with the way you travel, how come you are not infected? Why are you [Minister of Health Jappie Mhango] not getting corona in Rumphi where you are holding a football bonanza?”
Chilima, who has been vocal on Covid-19, did not mention anything relating to the pandemic while Chakwera accused government of failing to manage the Covid-19 pandemic by not closing the borders.
Said Chakwera: “Most of the cases are imported, why haven’t we closed the borders?”
In an interview last evening, Mhango said he was disappointed with the rallies, stating that they are a recipe for disaster.
With the Mzuzu Stadium upper ground—venue of the Tonse Alliance Mega Rally—close to Mzilawaingwe where there are two positive Covid-19 cases, the minister said the alliance demonstrated irresponsible behaviour.
Said Mhango: “First thing, I am not running any football bonanza in my area. I am championing the fight against Covid-19 and I can’t do that. Secondly, I am very disappointed with these leaders. We need to follow guidelines to the core.
“If the leaders themselves cannot even observe social distance, who will be telling people on the ground the seriousness of the pandemic that is corona?
“Elections or not, we need people and we cannot be sending them to the grave because you want to win an election. Corona is real, elections or not, corona is real.”
Health rights activist Maziko Matemba also observed that politicians seem to have forgotten the danger that is Covid-19, saying they are prioritising politics at the expense of people’s health.
He said: “We should not lose sight of the Covid-19. This campaign is coming when Malawi is reaching its peak on Covid, that’s why we had 13 cases on Saturday.
“We don’t know how many will be affected. With political gatherings, it’s so scaring and we might lose the battle. Mind you, we are only testing those we suspect, so we are scared. We don’t have serious restrictions. We are surprised that no political party leader mentioned clearly the measures to prevent it.”
In an interview with our sister newspaper, Nation on Sunday, Mustafa Hussein, a political scientist at Chancellor College—a constituent college of the University of Malawi, said it was regrettable and uninspiring that politicians have failed to lead by example in the fight against Covid-19.
He said the campaign field was supposed to be levelled where political parties needed to be treated equally, but it was clear no political party wants to be left behind.
Hussein said President Peter Mutharika himself has failed to lead by example as he was all over town after presenting his nomination papers, meeting people that observed no social distancing.
During the Mzuzu rally, Chakwera and Chilima said their parties—which contested in the annulled elections as rivals—will merge and blend manifestos to serve people better.
Chakwera also promised to raise the zero-rated tax band from K45 000 to K100 000, construct the stalled Mombera University in Mzimba, new campus for Mzuzu University, Orton Chirwa International Airport in Mzuzu as well as complete construction of the Njakwa-Livingstonia and Jenda-Edingeni roads.
On his part, Chilima pledged the K75 billion loan fund, reduction of fertiliser prices to K4 495 per 50 kilogramme bag from the current K20 000.
He also rallied his supporters to back the Chakwera presidential ticket in the July 2 election.
The Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal on Friday upheld the Constitutional Court ruling of February 3 which annulled last year’s presidential election over alleged irregularities.
Mutharika, 80, and the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) had appealed the historic decision of the five-judge panel of the High Court sitting as the Constitutional Court.
The President has maintained that last year’s elections were free, fair, credible and reflected the will of the people. He said when he presented his nomination papers for the fresh election that the July 2 vote is not the will of the people.