Public opinion scrutinises parties

A public opinion research by the Catholic Commission for Peace and Justice (CCJP) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) has analysed strengths of the presidential candidates and their political parties in the May 20 Tripartite Elections.

Findings of the report, launched on Wednesday in Blantyre and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USaid), are based on 35 focus group discussions conducted from January 27 to February 14 2014.

Some of the presidential candidates for May 20  elections
Some of the presidential candidates for May 20 elections

The discussions, the report stated, were conducted in rural, peri-urban and urban locations across 24 of the 28 districts in Malawi and a total of 420 Malawian citizens participated in the study.

For incumbent President Joyce Banda, participants said her strengths are her ability to connect with the public and understanding their concerns as well the People’s Party (PP) success in ending critical fuel and foreign exchange shortages.

The biggest selling points for the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) presidential candidate Atupele Muluzi, said the participants, are his youth and potential to offer fresh ideas as well as UDF’s skill in managing the economy and delivering free primary education.

Those who want to promote Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera, according to the participants, should focus on his religious background because it is an indication he is likely to be honest and hard-working.

Participants said Peter Mutharika’s supporters should highlight his educational background and his professorial and overseas experience.

On political parties, some participants said primary elections were characterised by irregularities, as a result their confidence in elections has been reduced.

Reads the report in part: “The problems with the primaries as cited by participants include poor vote security and unfairly staged primaries—for example, in the location of voting centres or in the limiting of information about those locations.

“In areas where a party did not hold a primary, some participants complain that parties ‘imposed’ candidates. The general confusion and poor procedures in the primaries cause frustration among participants.”

The report says the current policies or positions of the four parties—DPP, MCP, PP and UDF—are mostly unknown among participants, who instead focused on the parties’ record when they held the presidency (now for PP and in the past for DPP, MCP and UDF).

The participants particularly focused on a party’s record on the economy, food security and individual rights and freedoms when in power.

During the campaign period, participants said they expected political parties and candidates to discuss agriculture (including food security), education and health because needs in these are the areas are the greatest.

Participants feared the lack of a government salary will make newly elected local councillors ineffective and unmotivated.

Reads the report: “There is strong support among participants for legal mechanisms that would prevent Members of Parliament (MPs) from ‘crossing the floor’ and would give citizens the power to recall poorly performing elected officials.

“Participants say MPs who switch parties prior to an election are damaging the political system in Malawi. They feel a party switch betrays the choice they made when voting and believe almost all make the switch only because of greed for money or power.”

In conclusion, CCJP and NDI states that the report only represent participant opinions at the time of the research and the methodology was qualitative, as such it is not a poll or survey.

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