Malawi hold its first presidential debate: 4 no show

Malawi on Tuesday has held its first-ever presidential debate which two of the four main contenders between twelve candidates in next month’s elections took part as millions watched and listened to the live debate held in the capital, Lilongwe and broadcast on Zodiak radio,  Times TV  and state MBC stations.

President Joyce Banda of People’s Party (PP) and Peter Mutharika of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as well as Davis Katsonga of Chipani Cha Pfuko (CCP) and George Nnensa who leads the Tisintha Alliance were absent.

Attending the debate at the auditorium of the Bingu International Conference Centre (BICC) in Lilongwe were United Democratic Front (UDF) torchbearer Atupele Muluzi, Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party (MCP),  James Nyondo of National Salvation Front (Nasaf), Helen Singh of United Independent Party (UIP), Kamuzu Chibambo from People’s Transformation Party (Petra), Friday Anderson Jumbe of New Labour Party (NLP), Mark Katsonga Phiri of People’s Progressive Movement (PPM) and John Chisi of Umodzi Party (UP)

The eight of the 12 candidates who tussled in first presidential debate
The eight of the 12 candidates who tussled in first presidential debate

Moderator of the debate, Media Council of Malawi (MCM) chairperson the Reverend Patrick Semphere, first questioned candidates “ Malawi is 50 [years of independence] but has nothing to show for it. What will you do to turn things around?”

First to answer was MCP’s Chakwera who said here is “hopelessness, pain and exploitation.”

Chakwera said  : “We need character. We need courage for character so that leaders can be courageous to act. Humility is also required. Competence”

In his take Petra’s Chibambo said  Malawi needs a leader that is consistent and hailed himself as such a leader.

“We tend to place charisma above character in this country. Character is more important than charisma. We need a leader that is consistent and courageous. I believe I have the character to inspire the confidence of the masse,” said the trained lawyer.

Chisi of Umodzi Party said: “I developed my character from a very young age, worked hard, went to school and now back in Malawi to serve. I know the challenges of the village. Even those for the rich. I have come from poverty to prosperity”.

Chisi emphasized on the point of being a rugs to riches person saying that makes him understand people’s pain better.

Former Finance Minister Jumbe  said Malawi is looking for a capable leader because the country has not performed well.

Katsonga Phiri  referred to his party’s 20-point plan as he tackled the questions, although time and again he had to be reminded that his 2 minutes allocated had run out.

“We should be looking at how we can alleviate poverty in Malawi because 70% of our wealth is in agriculture but the sector is neglected, we are not focusing on agriculture”.

Nyondo said the problem Malawi has is “personalising” government projects by leaders, saying that is “the curse inflicting Malawi.”

“I have spent most of the time overseas and the connection I have I believe can be useful to Malawi,” said Nyondo.

Nyondo said he would like to harness what Malawi has – educated people, who when they come home have their resources squandered.

Singh of UIP believes she has the credentials to run this country and to end poverty.

Youthful presidential candidate, Atupele of UDF said Malawians are worried about the future and that next month’s election is one the most important for generation.

“I have a clear agenda with my people and I want to make it clear that we are ready to govern in the next few weeks,” said Atupele.

Atupele promised that UDF will reduce presidential powers, call for constitutional review, parliament to have its total powers and also devolution of power.

“We will reduce the power the President has. It is in our Manifesto and the topic of decentralization is there,” he said,

The candidates also outlined their ideas and plans for a corrupt free civil service, a ticking Constitution and adherence to rule of law and improving access to health.

All the eight candidates agreed on agricultural issues in terms of diversification, allocation of more resources to agriculture and reward/ motivation of officers, exports and value addition.

Current Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP) was heavily condemned and some have promoted universal subsidy to reduce price of fertiliser across the board as opposed to the abused targeted system that does not reach intended targets and is abused by politicians.

Sentiments were towards irrigation, mechanisation of agriculture, commercial farming and value-addition.

Another interesting aspect is one of multi-cropping where focus must not only be on maize but other cash and food crops and where farmers are encouraged to plant and harvest at least twice a year as opposed to the traditional once-a-year system.

Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter and regional president Anthony Kasunda, who chaired the presidential debates taskforce, said the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa and UKAid-funded debates would be in three parts, the second of which would be held next week Tuesday in Lilongwe and the final debate on May 3 in Blantyre.

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