Malawians should forget about having President Peter Mutharika and his running mate Everton Chimulirenji articulating their development agenda through political debates as the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) says the duo won’t participate.
In a statement signed on behalf of party secretary general Grezeldar Jeffrey yesterday, DPP said the two would not take part in any debate relating to the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections because it has reservations with the integrity of those behind the organisation of the same.
The DPP statement comes hours before the presidential running mates take to the podium this evening at the Comesa Hall in Blantyre for their second debate in which Chimulirenji was expected to take part, according to a promotional commercial issued by the organiser, privately-owned Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS).
During the first debate held last Thursday at a packed Bingu International Convention Centre (Bicc) Auditorium in Lilongwe, Chimulirenji did not show up despite reportedly confirming his attendance.
Instead, only four running mates—Mohammed Sidik Mia (Malawi Congress Party-MCP), Jerry Jana (People-s Party-PP), Frank Mwenifumbo (United Democratic Front-UDF) and Michael Usi of UTM Party—turned up.
In its brief statement yesterday, DPP said it will instead use other channels to communicate its development programmes to the nation ahead of the elections.
Reads the statement: “The party wishes to encourage continuation of participatory democracy where the media plays a critical role.”
When contacted to elaborate on the statement, Jeffrey could not be reached through her known mobile phones but party spokesperson Nicholas Dausi, while owning the statement as from DPP, said the communication was self-explanatory.
He said: “All I can say is that the statement is indeed coming from the DPP and that is what we will do. Nothing more.”
ZBS managing director Gospel Kazako, whose broadcasting house also held a similar debate in the run-up to the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections, said they would not comment on political statements.
He said: “We only deal with journalism, that’s all.”
The presidential debates, scheduled to host all the nine presidential aspirants, will be in three phases with the first group on March 29, the second on April 2 and the final group on April 5.
Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter chairperson Teresa Ndaga, who is also chairing the task force organising the presidential debates, said it was important to clarify that the running mates and presidential debates are being organised by different teams.
She said the presidential event involves a consortium of different entities, including media houses such as the taxpayer-funded Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and privately owned ZBS and Times Media Group.
Other organisations include Misa Malawi, National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice), Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD), Democracy Works Foundation (DWF), Public Affairs Committee (PAC), National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Voluntary Service Organisation, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), Malawi Law Society (MLS) and Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet).
Said Ndanga: “So, if there is a question of credibility in the sense of being partisan, I think the committee’s composition tells it all. It is difficult for such a group of people to have similar thinking and, therefore, be biased against the ruling party.”
She said the presidential debate was a process and the team would continue engaging different political parties, including DPP despite their pulling out.
Said Ndanga: “We don’t think this is the end. We will continue talking
and I think they will see, during those talks, the significance of participating in the debates and ensuring that the voters clearly
understand policies they have and what they promise Malawians beyond May 21.”
In the run-up to the May 20 2014 elections, then incumbent president Joyce Banda shunned the two presidential debates held in Blantyre and Lilongwe, while her running mate, Sosten Gwengwe chickened out of the second leg of the running mates debate in Blantyre. Mutharika, then a presidential hopeful in opposition, also failed to attend the Lilongwe presidential debate, but turned up for the one in Blantyre.