Presidential aspirants in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections should brace for a showdown in a public debate designed to accord them an opportunity to articulate how they will tackle challenges facing the country if voted into power.
Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter, which is one of the key organisers, has confirmed that it will once more coordinate debates for presidential candidates as it did in the run-up to the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections.
In an interview yesterday, Misa Malawi Chapter chairperson Theresa Ndanga said tentative dates for the debate would be set after Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) announces final list of presidential candidates for the May elections.
She said: “There is a task force looking into that matter [of debates] and I can confirm that we will hold these debates as it was the case in 2014.
“Next week we will make a formal announcement on this. But all I can say is that we are working on it and as soon as we have the final list of candidates, we will start sending invitations.”
Some political commentators have asked Misa Malawi Chapter to ensure that all presidential aspirants take part in the debate to give Malawians a chance to appreciate how they would handle the questions posed to them.
During a political rally at Njewa Trading Centre in Lilongwe on January 2 this year, the country’s Vice-President Saulos Chilima, who is also presidential candidate for the new kid on the political block, UTM Party, asked electoral stakeholders to arrange a presidential debate to help Malawians assess the state of preparedness among aspirants.
MEC director of media and public relations Sangwani Mwafulirwa said Misa Malawi is at the centre of coordinating the debate.
In 2014, the country hosted the first-ever presidential debates which saw eight of the 12 aspirants taking part at Bingu International Convention Centre (Bicc) in Lilongwe on April 22 2014 and a second leg at Hotel Victoria in Blantyre. Then incumbent president Joyce Banda of People’s Party and her prominent challenger who eventually defeated her, Peter Mutharika of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) did not attend. Davis Katsonga of the now-defunct Chipani Cha Pfuko and George Nnensa who led Tisintha Alliance also failed to attend.
The presidential candidates who attended were Kamuzu Chibambo (People’s Transformation Party-Petra), James Nyondo (now deceased) who represented National Salvation Front (Nasaf), Helen Singh (also deceased) of the United Independent Party (UIP), Atupele Muluzi (United Democratic Front-UDF), Friday Jumbe (New Labour Party-NLP), Lazarus Chakwera (Malawi Congress Party-MCP), Mark Katsonga Phiri (People’s Progressive Movement-PPM) and John Chisi (Umodzi Party-UP).
However, Mutharika, Katsonga and Nnensa attended the second leg of the debate in Blantyre on April 29 2014.
Presidential candidates and their political parties are yet to release detailed manifestos to outline their pledges. An online petition has since solicited over 170 signatures to push the aspirants to publicise their promises.
Commenting on the state of preparedness for the debates, UTM Party spokesperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga and his UDF counterpart Ken Ndanga said their leaders were set.
MCP spokesperson the Reverend Maurice Munthali also said Chakwera was ready.
But presidential spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani, while confirming incumbent President Mutharika’s willingness to attend the debates, said the President was waiting for a formal invitation.
Political analyst Gift Sambo said the organisers should ensure that all candidates attend if the debates are to make a positive impact.
He also asked organisers to choose credible and independent moderators to allay fears of bias against some candidates.
Another Chancellor College-based political analyst Ernest Thindwa appealed to candidates to seize the opportunity that the debates present.
The 2014 presidential debates were organised with financial support from Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (Osisa).
Prior to the presidential debates, privately-owned Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) organised a debate for running mates. n