15 March 2019

Malawi: Usi, Mia Clash in Live Running Mates Debate - Utm, MCP Growing Rivalry On Spotlight

If there is one thing that came out clearly from Thursday's live television debate for presidential running mates, is the manifestation of the growing UTM party and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) rivalry.

While United Democratic Front (UDF) running mate Frank Tumpale Mwenifumbo was still outstanding, the greater part of the debate was reduced to MCP's Sidik Mia and UTM's Michael Usi's battlefield where each of the two used the platform to expose the other party's weakness and repeatedly disagreed of facts.

Whenever the two took the platform there was less focus on governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) gaffes but rather on each other.

Mia questioned the morality of UTM leader Dr Saulos Chilima maintaining being the Vice President of the country when he is at loggerhead with the current President and also not working.

Usi took every opportunity to punch holes in Mia's statements to the extent of bemoaning his lack of knowledge on the federal system.

It was in response to the health sector question that Mia and Usi took each other head-on Mia stated that MCP would ensure that there is a health centre every four-kilometre radius, which Usi said was not practical.

This of course made the debate which was live on Zodiak television from Comesa Hall in Blantyre and watched by millions of viewers more lively and exciting.

"What is coming out clear from these debates is that we should expect more political rivalry between MCP and UTM as they approach the elections," observed governance expert and commentator Makhumbo Munthali in an interview with Nyasa Times.

"Unlike in the previous elections where the opposition had a soft spot on each other and instead concentrated on attacking the incumbent, the 2019 Tripartite elections provides an interesting scenario where the battle lines between MCP and UTM are already drawn, and as to whether this would benefit the ruling DPP or not in the next election is something that can be debated," he added.

Professor Wiseman Chiere Chirwa of the University of Malawi's Chancellor College described the debate held in Blantyre as "real debate" not a question and answer affair as was the case in the first session in Lilongwe.

The presidential running mates debate is an initiative of privately-owned Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS).

Everton Chimulirenji of the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) who chickened out from the first debate again did not take part again in the second leg as his party said they will not participate in any debate relating to the May 21 2019 watershed election.

Dr Jerry Jana of People's Party (PP) who attended the first leg of debate, pulled out from Thursday's event following his presidential candidate Joyce Banda's withdraw from the race.

The trio that took part in the debate ably moderated by Joab Frank Chakhaza tackled various topics ranging from health, gender and women empowerment, the economy, governance and access to justice and human rights, among others.

Malawians have another chance to see running mates battle in another debate on March 21 in Mzuzu where the style and substance, both which are important performance indicators in this political theatre, will be up for check.

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