Voters in the forth coming by-election in Karonga Central Constituency had a rare opportunity on Wednesday evening when National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE) Public Trust organised live political debates on the district's two community radio stations Tuntufye FM and Radio Dinosaur whose aim was to provide a platform for electorates and candidates to interact before the much anticipated elections billed for November 10.
According to Karonga District NICE civic and education officer Christobel Munthali, the debate was organised to provide an opportunity for candidates to sell their manifestos at the same time to give listeners a rare chance to call and express their satisfactions and reservations on their prospective constituency leaders.
Chief among the electorates' concerns was the issue of permanent dwelling places where Mwangolera Kikolo wanted to know whether they will not abandon the area for Lilongwe and struggle to successfully implement various development projects
"Let me know how some of those will implement and monitor projects since they don't have houses in the constituency?" asked Kikolo, a Mwenilondo resident.
In response, UTM Party candidate Frank Mwenifumbo said his strength lies in the fact that he has a house in the area, saying that is a guarantee that he cannot desert his constituents.
While the independent candidate Shackie Florence Nthakomwa brushed aside the mentality of owning a house in the constituency as a barrier to bringing development in the area, arguing that the fact that the five candidates had been given an opportunity to contest is a clear indication that they are bonafide sons and daughters of the soil.
She said: "Let us dwell our questions on what we as candidates will do in terms of transforming your lives in areas of development otherwise this is our home that is why we are contesting".
On his part, MCP's Mwalwanda said despite owning a house outside the constituency, he has always visited his home area 16 times a year, a feat he feels that once given a mandate will benefit the constituency through development area committees, views which were also shared by the Mbakuwaku Movement for Development (MMD) Nellie Sichali.
Conspicuously missing at the debate was the DPP's Ernest Mwalughali who despite confirming his availability did not turn up.
On the area of development, the four dwelt much on how they will work with area development committees which mostly are politicised to be in line withelcted leaders to enhance development, irrigation farming through solar pipes to the area which geographically is regarded as a rain shadow, youth and women economic empowerment and construction of better school blocks and health facilities.
However, Mwenifumbo parted himself on his back, saying he has already installed solar water pumps in the area while Nthakomwa and Sichali said they will revamp the area's dead agricultural area planning area (EPA) to revamp the sector with Mwalwanda saying he will intensify irrigation farming through installation of water pumps and tanks for gravitational water system in hard to reach areas for food sustainability.
However, the debate could not go without political drama as pandemonium between Mwalwanda and Mwenifumbo when the latter mocked the former of not having a house in constituency interrupted the live program at Radio Dinosaur for few minutes that it took management to calm down the situation.
In an interview, Munthali said her office being a governance institution, organised the debate to encourage issue-based campaign, saying issue based campaign helps candidates to desist from personal attacks thereby enhancing peaceful elections while giving the platform to the would-be electorates to asses their candidates' capabilities.
"The electorates will thus make informed decisions to elect the best candidate for the good of the community and national development.
NICE Public Trust organised the debate with funding from the European Union and National Democratic Institute (NDI).