President Peter Mutharika and UTM Party president Saulos Chilima today missed national peace prayers a development analysts say waters down the significance of the event.
But organisers of the event – the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) say even without the two key leaders attending in person, the purpose of the event was served.
Malawi Congress Party (MCP) President Lazarus Chakwera attended the prayers alongside his top party officials while President Mutharika delegated his vice – Everton Chimulirenji while Chidanti Malunga represented Chilima.
The three leaders are all party to the ongoing court battle over May 21 presidential election results. Chilima and Chakwera are petitioners in the case who want the election results nullified while Mutharika is a respondent alongside Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC).
In attendance were other presidential contenders in the May 21 elections; Umodzi Party President John Chisi, leader for Mbakuwaku Movement for Development Peter Kuwani and Independent candidate Reverend Kaliya.
Chidanti Malunga justified Chilima’s absence, saying the party believes in collective responsibility: “As he was tied up with other equally important issues, a member of the party can represent the party”.
Meanwhile, political scientist Happy Kayuni has said the absence of the two leaders at the event is a missed opportunity which sends a wrong message – that the two are unwilling to see change. He said their presence would have sent a message to their supporters and the citizenry that they are committed to promoting peace. According to Kayuni, the absence of the two waters down the significance of the event.
“Even if they inwardly did not believe in the event, they should have attended. That would have sent a powerful message – that they care about peace and they care about Malawi. In politics such gesture matter a lot and whatever the reason, this is a lost opportunity, ” he said.
On the prevailing message that leaders should prepare themselves and their supporters to accept the court’s decision, the university of Malawi lecturer said there is need to redesign the message so as not to give an impression that party followers or leaders should accept results for the sake of it.
Another political analyst Makhumbo Munthali said the two may have missed the prayers because they do not see value in PAC’s initiatives in resolving the political impasse. He said the fact that UTM has made it clear that it is not interested in dialogue until the outcome of the court, it is not surprising that Chilima did not attend the event.
But Pac chairperson the Reverend Felix Chingota said the event was a success even without the two leaders because they were duly represented. He said the aim is to have political parties take the message to their supporters and this has been achieved.
Asked on the future of their ongoing dialogue following disagreements among key players such as Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), UTM and Mutharika, Chingota expressed optimism that they are making headway and will continue engaging all relevant stakeholders.
The prayers were part of an ongoing peace-building initiative. Speeches and sermons in a packed Bingu Convention Centre centred around appealing to the citizenry to uphold the rule of law and promote peace and co-existence as the country awaits the court ruling.
One of the speakers – UN Resident Coordinator Maria Jose Torres stressed on the need to have peaceful settlement of disputes. She hailed PAC for bringing leaders together and also promoting peace.