The power of debates to swing votes overrated

The reason the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has given for its presidential candidate Peter Mutharika and his running mate Everton Chimulirenji for not participating in presidential debates is just a cover up. It is the good reason and not the real one. The truth is that APM does not want to negatively expose his running mate whose credentials are not very clear-to ridicule. Specifically, it is because it is feared that Chimulirenji may not be able to effectively articulate issues whether in  the Queens language during the little time that the debaters are allocated.   

The DPP secretary general Greselder wa Jeffrey announced on Wednesday in a statement that APM and Chimulirenji will not take part in the debates relating to the May 21 Tripartite Elections because the DPP has reservations with the integrity of those behind the organisation of the debates. Jeffrey did not explain further what exactly was defective in the team organising the debates.

For starters, the debates have been organised by a consortium of different entities including media houses, such as the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) and Times Group.

Others are Misa Malawi, National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice), Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD), Democracy Works Foundation (DWF), Public Affairs Committee (PAC) National Democratic Institution (NDI), Voluntary Service Organisation, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) Malawi Law Society MLS) and Civil Society for Agriculture Network (Cisanet). From this list, one can see the consortium is so diverse in composition one cannot begin to imagine how it would align with one or two political parties.

APM and DPP know that a running mate is in effect a president in waiting. The running mate becomes the State Vice-President for the winning party. In this case, should APM win the presidential votes on May 21, Chimulirenji will become the State Vice-President. And in line with the Constitutional order, should APM cease to be President for whatever reason, Chimulirenji would step in as the State President for the remainder of the period until elections.

With the pattern of voting in Malawi which is highly influenced by the founder’s party syndrome, voters already decided which political party’s candidate to cast their vote for. Levy Zeleza Manda in one of his pieces in his column in this newspaper rightly said that in some districts even if you put a dog as a candidate to stand for a certain political party as a parliamentary candidate, people in those districts will vote for it. People don’t vote for a candidate because of what he or she stands for-in terms of ideology-but on which political party ticket they are standing. I agree. It is only in the Northern Region, where people vote according to how a candidate has campaigned or according to one’s standing. That is why UTM Party, MCP, Aford, DPP, PP etc, are  all likely win parliamentary seats in the North in the coming elections. People in the North did away with the founder’s syndrome. Slowly, and for the good of this country, we are also beginning to see the same in some parts of the Southern Region such as Nsanje and Chikwawa where the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) has gained a foothold.

That is why I can predict without fear of contradiction, that the MCP presidential candidate will get a majority of its votes from the Central Region, the DPP candidate in the Lomwe Belt-Mulanje, Thyolo and Phalombe and parts of Chiradzulu-and the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the Eastern Region-Mangochi, Machinga and parts of Balaka. Party affiliation according to the founder’s syndrome is still very strong in these areas. 

So APM need not fear that DPP will lose votes if Chimulirenji fails to articulate issues during debates. What swings votes for the greater part are the district of origin of the candidates themselves  and part affiliation and not really how well their running mates express themselves during debates. n

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