Three out of four scheduled presidential hopefuls tussled on Tuesday night in the second of the three-part 2019 Presidential Debates in a virtually empty Bingu International Convention Centre (Bicc) auditorium in Lilongwe.
Conspicuously missing from the list introduced by moderator Grace Malera in the 1 800-seat Bicc auditorium which had less than 500 patrons was Tikonze People’s Movement presidential candidate Cassim Chilumpha, who served as the country’s vice-president between 2004 and 2009.
As if the poor patronage—dominated dignitaries from the international community, civil society and institutions sponsoring the debate—was not enough, discussants in yesterday’s debate Umodzi Party’s John Chisi, Peter Kuwani of Mbakuwaku Movement for Development and independent aspirant Revelend Kaliya spent most of their time crashing each other’s responses to questions. For a moment, one would be excused for mistaking Kaliya, for example, as the moderator.
Malera, the former Law Commissioner who received criticism on social media on her debut on the big stage last Friday, rose to the occasion last night.
Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter chairperson Teresa Ndanga, who is also chairing the task force organising the 2019 Presidential Debates, set the tone by stating that the organisers expected the debates to afford registered voters an opportunity to make informed decisions based on the issues articulated by the various candidates.
In reality, though, most of the ideas expounded in the thematic areas of health, agriculture, corruption and education by the discussants fell short of expectations.
In an interview, Makhumbo Munthali, a social and political commentator, who was part of the audience, described the performance of the candidates last night as disappointing.
He said: “Instead of focusing on critical issues, they turned the night into a comic event. People who felt that they have nothing to offer may feel vindicated.”
In his opening remarks, Chisi, currently board chairperson of Medical Council of Malawi, asked the electorate to remove the “old professor” in an apparent reference to the incumbent President.
He called for a new leadership, saying the current crop has failed.
With the exception of Chisi on the health topic, there was little evidence of any research in contributions to the topics. Kaliya’s plan to introduce helicopters for medical evacuations was among those raising eyebrows.
Throughout the debate, Chisi’s prized asset was his vast education, flaunting it regularly as a key achievement in his life. Kaliya, on the other hand, said as an independent candidate, he holds the magic wand to unite Malawians and develop the country devoid of partisan political interests while Kuwani preached a militant overhaul of the political system through a political revolution against the current elite.
Said Kuwani: “There is a cartel of selfish politicians we must break. We need to change political leadership.”
Ras Chikomeni Chirwa, whose presidential bid was rejected by Malawi Electoral Commission for failing to fulfil requirements, including the K2 million nomination fees, was given the biggest cheer as he entered the auditorium midway into the debate.
Explaining Chilumpha’s absence in an interview, Tikonze People’s Movement spokesperson James Moses Gambatula said the former vice-president had an emergency to attend to in Blantyre.
He said Chilumpha will attend the final debate if invited.
The first debate on Friday evening featured, in alphabetical order of surnames, Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party (MCP), the country’s Vice-President Saulos Chilima of UTM Party and Minister of Health Atupele Muluzi leading United Democratic Front (UDF).
The final debate this Friday will feature all the eight presidential candidates. While the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) indicated its candidate, Mutharika, would not take part in debates, organisers are still including him on the list of discussants.