Malawi’s Electoral Commission (MEC) has established a task force to organize the country’s first ever presidential debate in the run up to general elections on May 20, according to Sangwani Mwafulirwa, the electoral body’s director for media affairs.
Mwafulirwa said the group aims “to create a platform where we can give a chance to the electorate to compare views and policies which the presidential candidates have on various issues affecting the country.” “We also aim at providing an opportunity for all the presidential candidates [to] articulate what they have to the nation in a comparative forum.”
He said the political parties have endorsed the idea and have signaled they want to take part.
“Since we announced that we are going to have the debate, we have received positive feedback from all the political parties. None has come in to say they will not participate,” said Mwafulirwa.
Members of the presidential debate task force are drawn from various civil society organizations and broadcast media houses as well as international partners based on their expertise.
“Malawi’s electoral laws give the electoral commission the mandate to do everything possible within its power to make sure that there is an equal level playing field, and we feel bringing all the candidates together on one forum might give an opportunity to the candidates who may not have other [places] to articulate themselves,” said Mwafulirwa.
Mwafulirwa says the task force will determine what’s needed to organize and administer the presidential debates, including the appropriate dates and venues. The group will also determine the themes of the fora, their duration and presentation, either live or pre-recorded. The task force will settle questions regarding debate format, including whether a moderator or audience members will question the candidates and the houses that will provide coverage.
Some political analysts have questioned the independence of the presidential debate committee. But Mwafulirwa says it will be devoid of any political or ethnic influence.
“This task force will operate in the same [way] as the Malawi Electoral Commission is also independent,” said Mwafulirwa.