Malawi has held the first-ever broadcast political debate among the running mates to the presidential candidates in the May 20 election.
Organized by the privately-owned Zodiak Broadcasting Station, the debate comprised running mates from the country’s major political parties.
They are Sosten Gwengwe from the ruling People’s Party, Richard Msowoya from the Malawi Congress Party, Godfrey Chapola from United Democratic Front and Saulos Chilima of the Democratic Progressive Party.
During the debate, conducted in the local language Chichewa, the candidates were asked how they would address various issues of national concern if voted into power.
Among the issues were agriculture, infrastructure development and homosexuality. One common area was how to address poverty facing Malawians. Current statistics show that 65 percent of Malawians are living below the poverty line of $2 per day.
A political scientist at Chancellor College of the University of Malawi, Ernest Thindwa, said he thinks the debates were a lost opportunity for the candidates.
He says it was sad they seemed not well prepared for the debate, which he says was of national interest.
“You could see from the discussions that perhaps the candidates were not as prepared as they should have been," he said. "There was no candidate that came up with an action plan. [For example] during the debate the candidates were asked ‘what is your party’s position on gay [homosexuality]’. None of the party came with a solution. Now we do not want to have a party which is not decided on an issue which citizens think it is important.”
Some Malawians say the debate was an indication that Malawi's democracy is maturing.
Gerald Chirwa, who lives in Ndirande Township in the commercial capital, Blantyre, said, "This has really been a very important debate in Malawi being the first one of its kind. It has assisted Malawians to understand the manifestos of various political parties.
The executive director for Zodiak Broadcasting, Gospel Kazako, said the station expects to host the country’s first presidential debate in the near future.