Malawi President Joyce Banda has snubbed the first-ever presidential debates expected to start soon, citing “clash of programmes” and “tight campaign schedule” as reasons for the decision.
The President, according to People’s Party (PP) secretary general Paul Maulidi, has already communicated her decision to organisers of the debates.
Maulidi in an interview on Thursday said Banda has a tight campaign schedule and the days the debates were set to take place are clashing with some of her programmes.
Maulidi said: “We received the invitation, but we have expressed regrets to the organisers that she cannot afford to attend those debates. This is campaign period and she is busy reaching out to people.
“We have also looked at topics of the debates the organisers have come up with and we are of the view that we can ably address most of those issues through other forums, including during our campaign rallies.”
He said it would not help the PP for the President to spend time at the presidential debates, adding the party would have participated if the debates were organised two months earlier.
A multi-stakeholder task force on the presidential debates, endorsed by the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) and chaired by the National Media Institute of Southern Africa (Namisa), is organising the debates.
Namisa chairperson Anthony Kasunda said the task force sent invitations to all contesting presidential candidates, but has not received any apology from any candidate and their expectation was that all the 12 presidential candidates would take the debates as an opportunity to engage with Malawians.
Maulidi said the President’s decision to shun the debates has nothing to do with the party’s position on the ones organised by Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS), where PP accused the radio station of favouring the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP).
Maulidi said: “That issue is water under the bridge. This decision has nothing to do with that. Trust the reasons we have given for not being party to the presidential debates.”
During the running mates debate in March, the PP’s running mate Sosten Gwengwe participated in the first round in Lilongwe, but shunned the subsequent show in Blantyre, accusing Zodiak of bias.
The PP then threatened that President Banda may boycott debates for presidential candidates.
Maulidi was quoted by our sister newspaper, Nation on Sunday of March 24 2014 that unless they were assured of the debates’ neutrality, they were not going to participate.
He was quoted as saying: “we have just launched our campaign today and that was one way of communicating to the people about our agenda and not the presidential debates. Until we are assured that they will be conducted in an unbiased manner, we will have reservations.”
Namisa announced yesterday that the first round of the presidential debates is scheduled to take place Tuesday next week at the Bingu International Conference Centre (BICC), from 6:30 pm and will be broadcast live on radio, television and internet by Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), Times Television and Zodiak Broadcasting Station.
The second and third presidential debates, according to the statement, are scheduled for April 29 and May 6 in Lilongwe and Blantyre respectively.