BLANTYRE— With only a few days remaining until the May 20 presidential election, candidates in Malawi are leaving no stone unturned in trying to woo people to vote for them.
Among 12 people vying for Malawi's highest office, four main candidates stand out.
They are Lazarus Chakwera of the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Atupele Muluzi of the United Democratic Front (UDF), Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and President Joyce Banda of the ruling People’s Party (PP).
All the four major parties have ruled the country before. This is reflected in their core campaign messages, which hinge on the same topic - poverty alleviation through improved agricultural policies and job creation.
Each of these candidates is a stranger to the presidential race except President Joyce Banda, who in the 2009 elections was a running mate to then-president Bingu wa Mutharika, until she formed her own party after a falling out with him.
In her campaign messages, Banda is promising Malawians continued anti-poverty efforts she says she has been pursing since she took office in April 2012 following the death of Mutharika.
Despite a corruption scandal in which her office is directly implicated, President Banda’s administration has managed to avoid serious problems, except for what she says she inherited from the previous government. These include fuel and foreign exchange shortages, and a high inflation rate.
Banda says she is ready for any election outcome.
She says God will decide whether she should continue in office. But she says if Malawians do not vote her back in, she will honorably leave.
Atupele Muluzi is the son of the former president and founder of the opposition UDF, Bakili Muluzi, who ruled the country from 1994 to 2004. Probably the youngest presidential candidate ever in Malawi, the 35-year-old Muluzi is most popular among youth, who constitute more than half of the country’s population.
Muluzi promises Malawians a change in leadership style. He says his government will introduce clean politics devoid of mudslinging and self-enrichment he says have soiled the country’s political landscape since independence 50 years ago.
Seventy-four-year-old Peter Mutharika is hoping that voters remember the previous achievements of his party under his elder brother, the late Bingu wa Mutharika.
He says we constructed a lot of roads in the capital, Lilongwe, we constructed the Nsanje Port, we built the Karonga-Chitipa road, and in addition to that, we changed the mindset. He says we are ready to lead this country again.
The 59-year-old Lazarus Chakwera of the MCP, which ruled the country from 1964-1994, is regarded by supporters as a transformational leader of the party that previously was associated with atrocities committed under its founding leader, the late Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
Chakwera served as the president of the Christian Church, Assemblies of God, until he resigned from the pulpit and entered politics in May 2013. He promises Malawians quality leadership.
“With all the good policies my colleagues have been describing, you still need integrity in leadership. You still need political will to follow through with certain tough decisions. You still need courage in order for these things to happen," he said.
Political commentators say judging from the support each of the candidates is commanding, predicting a winner this time around remains a daunting task.