Five of the seven presidential candidates in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections have shunned a Presidential Prayer Breakfast scheduled for Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe today.
The development means that incumbent President Peter Mutharika could be the sole presidential candidate in attendance. Independent presidential aspirant Revelend Kaliya yesterday could not be reached by his known mobile phone numbers to ascertain if he is attending the event.
The five who have confirmed they will not turn up are the country’s Vice-President Saulos Chilima who is challenging his boss on the ticket of the newest political outfit UTM Party, Minister of Health and United Democratic Front (UDF) candidate Atupele Muluzi, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) torchbearer Lazarus Chakwera, Umodzi Party (UP) president John Chisi and Mbakuwaku Movement for Democracy (MMD) leader Peter Kuwani.
Ironically, Mutharika did not attend National Prayers and Signing of Peace Declaration by Presidential Candidates at Bingu International Convention Centre in Lilongwe organised by Public Affairs Committee (PAC) last Saturday as he travelled to the Northern Region for a series of campaign rallies. The other six all attended.
The candidates not attending today’s prayers have cited busy schedules and lack of neutrality of the venue at State House as some of the reasons for their absence.
In a telephone interview yesterday, UDF spokesperson Ken Ndanga said Muluzi has since delegated his party’s secretary general Kandi Padambo to represent him.
He said: “As you know the prayer breakfast was scheduled for today [Wednesday] and was postponed to tomorrow [Thursday]. So, it has collided with his [Muluzi’s] schedule which cannot also be postponed.”
UTM Party secretary general Patricia Kaliati said her party president, Chilima, would not attend the event at Kamuzu Palace due to security concerns.
She said: “We all know it would not be okay to attend such prayers. Actually, the President [Mutharika] himself never attended the peace prayers organised by PAC, meaning he is not a peaceful person. So, why attend the prayers?”
MCP spokesperson the Reverend Maurice Munthali said Chakwera will not attend the prayers because “Kamuzu Palace is not a neutral place for such an event”.
Chisi, on the other hand, said his campaign schedule is tight; hence, he cannot take time off to attend the prayers at State House.
He said: “I am going to Mzuzu just like the President [Mutharika] did and I have a tight schedule and a tight budget. I do not have anything against anyone and I wish them well.”
In a separate interview, Kuwani said the Presidential Prayer Breakfast session was not relevant compared to the event organised by PAC last Saturday where the candidates committed to a peaceful campaign and election.
“In as far as I respect the freedom of worship, some of the churches organising the prayers are not worthwhile… PAC is recognised for its credibility,” he said.
The prayers have been organised by several Christian churches, including Pentecostal Revival Crusade Ministries, Calvary Family Church, Charismatic Redeemed Ministries International, Malawi Assemblies of God and Living Waters Church.
Presidential press secretary and spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani yesterday confirmed in an interview that Mutharika will attend the prayers.
But in separate interviews, political commentators said holding the prayers at State House would give an edge to the incumbent President.
Mustapha Hussein, a political scientist based at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, yesterday said the presidential candidates are justified by staying away from the prayers on the basis of neutrality of venue and a clash with their campaign schedules.
He said: “It is more like a godfather inviting his subordinates to attend an event where he will have an edge over what is happening.”
On her part, Mzuzu-based political analyst Emily Mkamanga agreed with Kuwani that today’s prayer session was not relevant, especially coming after PAC hosted a similar event where the signing of a peace declaration also took place.
She said: “The other parties are justified by not attending and when you look at the relevance, we see it is not that relevant because PAC also held their prayers which discussed more important issues such as the peace signing where the President himself was supposed to attend.”
But University of Livingstonia political analyst George Phiri said the venue would not given an edge to the incumbent as the prayers are for the common good.
However, he sided with absent candidates, saying neutrality should be observed.
The prayers moderator Apostle Madalitso Mbewe yesterday said the other presidential candidates were making unjust claims on the neutrality of the event. He said the candidates do not understand where the prayers emerged from.
He said hosting the prayers at State House would not give an edge to the incumbent because the prayers will provide a forum for peaceful coexistence among the candidates and other stakeholders present.
In an earlier interview with The Nation this week, governance expert Rafiq Hajat, while backing Mutharika for not availing himself at PAC prayers, said the presidential prayer breakfast should have been held at a neutral venue where people from all walks of life would avail themselves.
He said: “The fact that the President sent a representative at PAC prayers means that he was there in spirit. What is important is that they should not just be prayers but we should walk the talk that leaders will maintain peace.”
Presidential Prayer Breakfast sessions date back to 1999 and have been held during every election except 2014 when the organisers said they had no funding.
During the 1999 session held at Sanjika Palace in Blantyre, it was attended by then United Party president Bingu wa Mutharika (now deceased), Malawi Democratic Party president Kamlepo Kalua, then Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Chakufwa Chihana (now deceased) who represented presidential candidate of the MCP/Aford alliance Gwanda Chakuamba (now deceased) and then incumbent President Bakili Muluzi.
During the 2004 session, attendees included Chakuamba who led Mgwirizano Coalition, the country’s former vice-president Justin Malewezi who was an independent candidate, Brown Mpinganjira of National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Bingu as UDF presidential candidate and John Tembo for MCP.
However, the 2009 session was shunned by all opposition parties except the then Republican Party (RP) president Stanley Masauli (deceased). n