Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has confirmed that former president Joyce Banda formally withdrew her candidature in the presidential race in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections, reducing the number of aspirants to eight.
In an interview at a news conference in Lilongwe on Monday after Banda officially announced her endorsement of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) presidential candidate Lazarus Chakwera and signed a memorandum of agreement on the same, MEC spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa said the People’s Party (PP) president submitted her notice.
Said Mwafulirwa: “I can confirm that we received a notice [of withdrawal of the presidential candidature].”
He said Banda will not get a refund of her K2 million presidential nomination fee because the withdrawal is voluntary.
In a separate interview on Monday, PP spokesperson Ackson Kalaile Banda said the former president specifically submitted her notice to MEC on March 13 2019.
From the gender perspective, Banda’s withdrawal has reduced to zero the number of female presidential aspirants in the race.
Her move, first announced last Thursday by PP secretary general Ibrahim Matola and his MCP counterpart Eisenhower Mkaka, comes after PP unceremoniously pulled out from a three-day electoral partnership with UTM Party and others in early February this year.
During Monday’s briefing, Chakwera, in response to a question from The Nation on his commitment to undertake his long-held resolve to prosecute any leader and his/her associates in connection with corruption or abuse of public funds, he said if elected President he would let relevant State agencies investigate criminal and corruption-related cases associated with former presidents, including Banda.
The question attracted boos from some MCP and PP supporters in the hall at a hotel who visibly interpreted it as a potential ‘spoiler’ at a time when their leaders were basking in the glory of their newly-found political bond.
But Mkaka stood in defence of the journalists by urging the party loyalists to let the media freely ask the leaders questions.
He said: “We, in MCP, believe in freedom of the press and, therefore, the reporters are free to ask our leaders even tough questions. No one should boo the reporters.”
In his response, Chakwera said: “As President, I will not have time to investigate or persecute anyone. I will give power and independence to the able organisations that are supposed to do that.”
Banda, the country’s then estranged Vice-President who ascended to the presidency in line with constitutional order after the death of president Bingu wa Mutharika in April 2012, is widely linked with Cashgate—the plunder of public resources at Capital Hill through inflated invoices or payments for goods and services not rendered exposed under her watch in September 2013. She is on record as having said she took decisive steps by commissioning a forensic audit that exposed abuse and loopholes in the public finance management.
Further, the Banda administration is also tainted with the controversial disposal of a presidential jet.
In 2009, the Bingu administration bought a 14-seater Dassault Falcon 900EX presidential jet at about K16.5 billion ($22 million), but the Banda administration sold it at a reported K11.2 billion ($15 million) apparently to use the money for “pressing needs”.
The Banda administration gave conflicting explanations on the sale of the jet, including how the State had used the proceeds.
During yesterday’s news conference, Banda said it was unfortunate that an impression was created that she sold the jet on her own when the decision was collectively made by her Cabinet.
She said she could not divulge more as she signed a non-disclosure commitment not to disclose what she saw in government.
Said Banda: “When I got into government, there was a pressing need for us to have adequate immediate resources. The decision wasn’t made by me alone. We decided to sell for that pressing need.”
She also stressed that the MCP-PP special relationship was only at the presidential candidate level to secure Chakwera’s presidential victory. Banda said parliamentary and local government elections candidates of the two parties will compete against one another at constituency and ward level.
In the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections, Banda finished third with 1 056 236 votes against 1 904 399 for the winner Peter Mutharika of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and 1 455 880 for the runner-up Chakwera. Current Minister of Health Atupele Muluzi of United Democratic Front (UDF) was fourth with 717 224 votes.
Political analysts have since hailed the MCP-PP relationship, saying it gives MCP, which governed the country in a one-party dictatorship from 1964 to 1994, more chances of winning in the election while disadvantaging other political parties that will go it solo.
About 6.59 million voters are expected to vote this year, with over half of the eligible voters being youths and women.