Political parties say they have devised alternative campaign methods, including using social media platforms and door-to-door campaigns ahead of the July 2 fresh presidential election in the face of restrictions imposed to prevent the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
The parties, which have recently come under fire for ignoring the Covid-19 prescribed restriction of a maximum of 100 people during their campaign rallies, expressed their views in separate interviews on Wednesday.
Malawi Congress Party (MCP) secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka—whose party is in Tonse Alliance with eight other parties—said in a telephone interview on Wednesday that the party and its partners engaged in numerous strategies amid the pandemic.
He said: “We are employing multiple strategies like we have a team of social media people, we are using television and radio platforms and small groups where we are spreading our campaign messages.”
Mkaka said the messaging to their followers also includes Covid-19 precautionary measures recommended by health personnel with emphasis that the pandemic is real.
But he admitted that at times the politicians are failing to follow laid down precautionary measures, saying the development is putting the party between a rock and a hard place.
In a separate interview, Mbakuwaku Movement for Development (MMD) president Peter Kuwani said the party is centred on technology in advancing its messages to voters and not rallies.
He said: “We just have to observe social distancing because we are doing it for the benefit of the nation. It will be meaningless to get ushered into government and we have a sick nation. That will be costly and again it will derail national development.”
But governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) spokesperson Nicholas Dausi declined to comment when the subject was introduced to him, saying: “Aaah! Zoona a Chitsulo? Izizi si mpikisano kuti tizinena [Are you sure we should be talking about this? It’s not a contest!]. I cannot comment on that.”
UTM Party, whose leader and the country’s Vice-President Saulos Chilima is running mate to MCP president Lazarus Chakwera, earlier announced establishment of a digital command centre in Lilongwe where officials would be virtually addressing audiences through radio and television in a set-up modelled along the political rally set-up.
Commenting on the developments, political and governance commentators said while there are alternatives such as use of television, radios, drama and social media platforms, politicians will find it hard to use such mediums as they believe in wooing voters through rallies.
In a telephone interview, Ernest Thindwa, a political science lecturer at Chancellor College—a constituent college of the University of Malawi, said it is sad that politicians believe in rallies as the only way to campaign.
He said: “In the eyes of the politicians, these are not effective when compared to holding political rallies.”
In a separate interview, governance commentator Rafiq Hajat said while such other alternatives can be used, there is also need for further control in the process.
On her part, Mzuzu-based political analyst Emily Mkamanga said politicians prefer crowds despite the covid-19 threat because they believe it is the only effective way of convincing them to vote for them.
Since MEC launched the official campaign period on May 2, political parties have been in a “business as usual” approach, holding rallies which thousands of supporters patronise without observing social distancing, among other precautionary measures.
In a written response, Ministry of Health Principal Secretary Dr. Dan Namarika said the ministry is equally concerned with political rallies where physical distancing is not possible.