Malawians were able to size up hopefuls competing in the May 20 elections in a first ever televised presidential debate. But four candidates, including President Joyce Banda and her chief rival, failed to turn up.
President Joyce Banda, who enters the election arena with her credibility seriously impaired by a huge corruption scandal, has decided to ignore the three presidential debates, the first of which was held on Tuesday (22.04.14).
She told the nation in a statement released by the ruling People's Party (PP) secretary general, Paul Maulidi, that "she could not attend those debates. This is a campaign period and she is busy reaching out to the people."
Her main rival Peter Mutharika of the former ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was also absent and has so far offered no explanation. Mutharika is the brother of former President Bingu wa Mutharika, who died of a heart attack in 2012.
'Lack of seriousness'
Joyce Banda become president in April 2012 after her predecessor President Bingu wa Mutharika (picture) died in office
Augustine Magolowondo is an analyst with the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy, based in Lilongwe. He told DW's Africalink show that the public mood was such in the country that people expected these two parties (PP and DDP) to take part in the debate. "It was also a disappointment to their supporters" and could have "a negative impact" on the parties' prospects at the polls, he said.
Malawians DW spoke to in Blantyre said Banda was showing "a lack of seriousness" by staying away from the debates. They were also "a missed opportunity" for those candidates who did not take part.
Two other candidates, Davis Katsonga of Chipani Cha Pfuko (CPP) and George Nnensa, leader of the Tisintha Alliance, were apparently prevented from attending by transport problems.
'Secure enough to hire people more competent than themselves'
Candidates who did take part were given time to explain to the electorate how they would revamp the economy. They also focused on the crucial agricultural sector, food security, mining and the separation of powers in the state.
Atupele Muluzi from the United Democratic Front (UDF) said Malawians were worried about the future and he believed "the solution was quality leadership." Helen Singh of the United Independent Party (UIP) bemoaned Malawi's lack of progress in improving the standard of living. "Poverty levels are very dirty and painful, but this nation is very rich and the rich resources of this nation are not used for development."
Education was discussed by the candidates in Malawi's first presidential debate
Earlier in the year Malawians took to the streets of Blantyre in anger at their government over one specific instance of wasted resources - the so-called Cashgate scandal which broke last year. A damning audit has since revealed that corrupt officials had stolen over $30 million (22 million euros) from state coffers - a huge sum for a country dependent on foreign aid.
Touching on the leadership theme - in the absence of President Joyce Banda - James Nyondo from the National Salvation Front (Nasaf) said he had encountered many educated and competent Malawians in international organizations, but when they returned home "their contribution is thwarted by insecure politicians. What Malawi needs is a man or woman secure enough to hire people more competent than themselves."
While following the debate Augustine Magolowondo said he was struck by the candidate of the United Democratic Front (Atupele Muluzi) "making himself ready to declare his assets well before the elections and calling on the other candidates to do likewise."
Malawians vote in presidential, parliamentary and local elections on May 20.
Asked whether the polls would bring change to Malawi, Magolowondo said "at the moment, it's too close to call."