Three of the presidential running mates in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections faced off in a heated debate last night that some analysts classified as living up to the billing.
The trio that took part in the Running Mates Debate, an initiative of privately-owned Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS), at Chichiri International Conference Centre widely known as Comesa Hall in Blantyre were Muhammed Sidik Mia of Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Frank Mwenifumbo of United Democratic Front (UDF) and Michael Usi from UTM Party.
Two other running mates, Everton Chimulirenji of governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Jerry Jana of People’s Party (PP) did not attend. While Jana attended last week’s session and might have pulled out from last night’s event following his presidential candidate Joyce Banda’s withdrawal from the race, Chimulirenji fulfilled a DPP statement that the party’s presidential candidate Peter Mutharika and his partner will not attend any debate.
Professor Wiseman Chijere Chirwa of the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College described last night’s session as a real debate and not a question-and-answer affair as was the case at Bingu International Convention Centre (Bicc) in Lilongwe.
During the session, Usi, Mia and Mwenifumbo tackled various topics ranging from health, gender and women empowerment, the economy, governance and access to justice and human rights, among others.
Last night, the discussants were visibly determined and passionate in their delivery. At some point, it got too emotional and heated up, but, to their credit, they held their cool as they responded to questions from the host Joab Chakhaza of ZBS and the audience.
To the question on relevance of chiefs, Mia took the lead, stating that traditional leaders play an important role in preserving cultural heritage.
Usi agreed, saying without chiefs, there would be chaos in society. He said chiefs play a critical role in facilitating developments at local level.
Mwenifumbo said UDF, if voted into power, would not abuse chiefs politically.
On priority areas to enhance transformation, the running mates gave varied opinions on what their respective administrations would do if given a chance to govern.
Usi said UTM Party would focus on fighting corruption, economic transformation and improving governance. He said an action plan would be devised to guide the implementation.
Mia said MCP would focus on agriculture, improving the economy by reducing government spending and ending corruption while Mwenifumbo said UDF would focus on improving electricity generation, agriculture, mining and tourism.
On health, Mwenifumbo said UDF will ensure universal health coverage, curb drug pilferage and train and retain health workers.
It was in response to the health sector question that Mia and Usi took each other head-on. Mia stated that MCP would ensure that there is a health centre every four-kilometre radius, which Usi said was not practical.
The trio also tackled the question of reducing the President’s powers, including immunity. In his take, Mia did not indicate if immunity would be removed while Usi said a UTM Party administration would remove presidential immunity from prosecution to check against abuse of office.
The three also agreed that corruption was stifling development in the country.
The event started with observance of a minute’s silence in respect of the souls of the 56 people who have died following the floods disaster that hit the country last week.