With George Kasakula:
The much-awaited presidential debates kicked off last week Friday with three presidential candidates, UTM’s Saulos Chilima, Malawi Congress Party’s Lazarus Chakwera and United Democratic Front’s Atupele Muluzi tussling over issues of national importance.
President Peter Mutharika—who had passionately participated in the 2014 debate because he said they were very important—stuck to his party’s earlier notice that its candidates would not partake of the event.
Even his running mate, Everton Chimulirenji, who is trying his best to make a significant mark on the political arena, did not show up for the crucial activity which allows Malawians to gauge who to give power.
In essence, the concept of the debates is that those who seek to govern this country should openly state their political, economic and social agendas which will make Malawi better than it is now.
It is not just a matter of aggressively going after each other without clearly articulating issues which a candidate believes will propel the country forward.
Several questions were paused to Muluzi, Chakwera, Chilima and other presidential candidates.
The candidates must be grateful that they had an opportunity to speak to Malawians on issues which would, perhaps, take them months to reach the audience that they did.
For a start, for those who are confident about their ideas and manifestos, the debate just boosted their impact.
It is those who have no confidence in their own development agendas who either chickened out of the crucial activity or failed to clearly articulate issues but concentrated on attacking their fellow debaters.
Yet, this also gave Malawians an opportunity to determine who is actually ready to lead them, with good policies, and who wants to govern just out of necessity.
Chakwera and Chilima agreed on a number of areas including universal fertiliser subsidy, abolishing quota system of selecting students into public institutions of higher learning and fighting corruption.
Muluzi seemed to develop cold feet on some areas and failed to make sense of his own pronouncements when he constantly resorted to attacking his fellow contestants.
The pomp that the youthful politician commanded pre-2014 has quickly disappeared into oblivion as he finds himself stuck in a system that he believes deserves to be changed.
On the other hand, he has to defend its policies even if they do not make sense to him, because he belongs there.
For instance, on Farm Input Subsidy Programme, Muluzi did not come out clearly on how he would treat the initiative given a chance to run this country.
His sentiments that his party is in talks with various stakeholders on how to improve agriculture in Malawi were vague and typical of someone struggling to disentangle himself from an establishment they feel obliged to defend.
He also could not sufficiently pick holes in the current administration because he belongs there anyway. During the first debate, it appeared he had just showed up to defend the Mutharika administration.
As such, Malawians did not get the best from him. His potential has been dwarfed by the decision to partner a party that has significantly contributed to his current state where his party has fielded only 124 parliamentary candidates for this year’s election.
It would also have been very interesting to have Mutharika, Muluzi and Chilima tussling on issues which they must mutually address.
They belong to the same Cabinet, albeit only technically, and must, therefore, share the blame if things are not working.
Of course, for Chilima, it would be easy to go after his boss because we all know that he did not have much influence in government affairs before he left DPP. Well, that could be a whole topic for another day.
For Muluzi, it would be difficult to attack policies of an administration he serves. It is a delicate situation he thrust himself into and seems to be failing to leave.
It is funny that, a few days ago, the young Muluzi claimed that some of the development projects that the current administration is implementing are his party’s brainchild.
That is how confused he is.
Essentially, since he is still in Mutharika’s Cabinet, he should be proud that his development plans are being executed.
But, he has to balance between being part of the administration and being a presidential candidate of a party that seeks to take over government.
All in all, the first presidential debate got the candidates giving Malawians an opportunity to appreciate what they have in store for them, whether good or bad or nothing.