Last Friday March 29, 2019 the Media Institute of Southern Africa in Malawi, also known as MISA-Malawi, hosted the first Presidential Debate at the Bingu International Conference Center (BICC).

In the debate, attended by Malawi Congress Party (MCP) presidential candidate Dr. Lazarus Chakwera, United Transformation Movement (UTM) presidential candidate Dr. Saulos Chilima, and United Democratic Front (UDF) presidential candidate Mr. Atupele Muluzi. Absent, to the disappointment of his followers was incumbent President Professor Peter Mutharika, who reportedly had other engagements.

Clearly a battle of great wits, with high stakes, where the moderator switched from English to Chichewa against a sometime unruly audience, the first result was a tie between Chakwera and Chilima. Muluzi, who was emotional, combative, and sometimes failed to answer questions, contradicted himself on corruption in his ministry. Mutharika gets a zero for his failure to attend; this is coupled with his running mate’s failure to attend an earlier vice-presidential debate. Mutharika and DPP, therefore get 100 percent Vote of no Confidence.

With this, it would appear as if the DPP is out of the race, with many people faulting the Chimulirenji factor, citing that he “lacks the stamina to woo votes; the worst is Mutharika who is failing to defend his leadership mess up.”

There are some people who held that the debate was won by Chilima. This line of thought held that Muluzi was second.

“Chakwera failed to tell us how things will be solved by his party.”

While this group of people felt that Muluzi came second to Chilima was due to his visible temper; however, they counter, he could very well “do better than both in the next round.”

The debate was aptly moderated by Grace Malera, a human rights activist and country director of UK in Malawi project on VAWG.

She span a brilliant set of questions and follow ups that had the contenders scribbling away their responses as she spilled out the questions, going round and about, so as not to appear to favor any one of the candidates.

First on the list was what each candidate proposed to do that would be different from the current leadership in government.

Other questions were on agriculture, and specifically, what will be done about the failing policy of farm input subsidy program (FISP); on education Malera quizzed the candidates on access to education, the quota system and equity in education in Malawi.

Still on social issues, Malera asked the three gentlemen, if their Manifestos speak about promoting women, why not one of the parties fielded a female running mate; she also asked them to outlay their respective party’s action that would reduce maternal mortality rate. The next round of questions dealt with climate change and lastly combating corruption.

In highlighting the responses from the candidates Chakwera is to be commended for showing that the MCP has a past of some very good achievements among them in the agricultural sector and health delivery.

He also brought up the excellent point of the missing incumbent President Mutharika in the debate. Chilima is to be commended for bringing in a new set policy changes for the role of the vice president, introduction of the Mega Farms tied to a factory at district level, and the 30-clemency for persons that corruptly amassed wealth from Malawi Government coffers.

On his part Muluzi, a man from a different political party, different faith, and different region, is commended for working with a party that has twice defeated his party in the elections (2009 and 2014).

The three presidential hopefuls throughout the debate attacked each other mercilessly, in some cases the attacks won them points; in many however, they made them lose vital marks in the debate.

Muluzi  lost points for his temper display in the debate. He interjected twice, forcing the moderator to acknowledge him out of politeness.

He also failed to highlight what he was bringing to the table in Malawi other than that he has worked in the DPP Government.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for Muluzi is his contradiction in his response to Chakwera’s interjection: “Can you name anyone you have had arrested” for corrupt practices in Ministry of Health?

In his attempt to respond, thereby defend his claim to running a good ship in government, Muluzi said that he would propose tough laws when elected president of Malawi. In the next breath however, he said laws “are not a deterrent” to these corrupt practices.

Chakwera could be commended for highlighting that his fellow candidates were all part of the current government under the DPP, however he brought this up several times and this began to sound like a clanging gong.

Chilima’s question on whether Muluzi has ever won a leadership battle may have been valid, but it was nonetheless, a low one.

Overall, I found the three candidates’ responses on women require further research and debate. For example, if Muluzi in wanting to sway Parliamentary majority, swung into the government the AFORD Party and created the Second President Portfolio, the new governors of post-May 21, 2019 could very well etch that a woman should be nominated the second vice president.

This law could state that any time the vice president is a man, the president should nominate a female as second vice.

On the issue of maternal deaths, access to health care is important, tied in with construction of clinics in the rural areas, and the critical involvement of traditional leaders in getting women to training health workers in the delivery of their babies.

This was instituted by former President Dr. Joyce Banda. It should be emulated and continued as a national priority.

The use of traditional leaders also works brilliantly in ending child marriages in Malawi. Our own Malawi child marriage terminator, Senior Chief Kachindamoto can appraise the candidates how she has been succeeding in this area. It too must be incorporated into the national development plans.

A word to Chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Malawi, Justice Dr. Jane Ansah: Please craft it into your policies that presidential and vice-presidential candidates MUST attend at least TWO of the three arranged Presidential Debates and Vice-Presidential Debates.

Long live Malawi’s genuine democracy!

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