In Malawi, the political parties are going all-out in their campaigns to woo voters before the May 19 presidential and parliamentary elections. In fact, observers say the campaign has been marred by speeches full of hate and blame ? posing a challenge to those hoping for elections free of violence.

Malawi's presidential candidates have signed a Code of Conduct with the Malawi Electoral Commission as a guideline to free and fair polls.  The agreement was reached in February by all seven presidential candidates, during the presentation of nomination papers. Among those who signed were current president Bingu wa Mutharika of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, Kamuzu Chibambo of the People's Transformation Party, and John Tembo, representing the alliance between the Malawi Congress Party and the United Democratic Front Alliance,

The other candidates and signatories are Stanley Masuali of the New Republican party, Dindi Gowa Nyasulu of the Alliance for Democracy, Loveness Gondwe of the New Rainbow Coalition and an independent aspirant, James Nyondo.

The document includes a clause that forbids the contestants to attack each other during campaign rallies. But observers say on the ground, the candidates are not following the rules.

Noel Mbowela, a political scientist at Mzuzu University, says "It's quite inauspicious that most political parties are not adhering to the code of conduct. Instead of campaigning, they are mentioning names, and when they mention those names, the stories are not very good. They are full of castigatory remarks and some other very bad comments." 

He says this does not auger well with free and fair elections that the country is trying to achieve.

None of the political parties admit misconduct.

Ishmael Chafukira, the spokesperson for the MCP, says "I think the Malawi Congress Party is the only party that is currently upholding elements which were in the Code of Conduct one of which is resisting from making hate speeches on the podium."

He says none of the party's rivals has filed a complaint about it.

Henry Chimunthu-Banda is the secretary general of the ruling DPP.

"We are implementing what was contained and signed in the Code of Conduct. Because of the free and fair election to take place we need to observe a Code of Conduct as provided by the Malawi Electoral Commission."

Despite the parties' denials, recent developments confirm that the political leaders have indeed been attacking each other in their political rallies. Opposition leader Kamlepo Kaluwa and UDF deputy secretary general Hophmally Makande were arrested for allegedly demeaning President Mutharika during a campaign rally.

But the president himself, at a political rally, described independent candidates as hyenas, angering many independent candidates and their supporters.

The party's spokesman, Hetherwick Ntaba, downplayed the word, calling it just a figure of speech.

"The president," he says, "was equating the conduct of some of these independents who are actually carrying most of their operations at night.  A hyena usually operates at night because it doesn't want other things to be known by other members of the surrounding. So as a figure of speech, people should take the context on what that statement meant."

Fegus Lipenga is the spokesperson for the Malawi Electoral Commission. He says the commission is saddened by tone of the campaign.

"To continue castigating each other is very unfortunate," says Lipenga. "We would like to urge them to stop that and abide by the code of conduct. People would like to listen to issues not castigations. If you reduce castigations, then there will be lesser possibility of having violence during elections." So it's an appeal to political parties to abide by the code of conduct for peaceful elections."

 Besides the Code of Conduct, DPP, MCP and UDF also signed the Memorandum of Understanding brokered by former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano. It was designed to guide the political leaders toward a campaign free of violence.

The Code of Conduct does not provide penalties for those who break the rules, nor does it have the power to investigate complaints. The only recourse for an aggrieved party is to take the matter to court.