Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Malawi: Malawi votes on 'bread and butter' issues

Malawians are voting Tuesday in parliamentary and presidential elections. Leading presidential candidates are incumbent President Bingu wa Mutharika of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and John Tembo who heads a coalition of the Malawi Congress Party and United Democratic Front party.

Rafiq Hajat, executive director of the Institute for Policy Interaction in Malawi told VOA from the commercial capital, Blantyre, that Malawians are excited with simmering anxiety.

"There's a lot of hype going on. You must remember that politics is the main game in town. We don't have the proliferation of cable TV and satellite TV. Only six percent of our population has access to electricity. So basically this is like a welcome relief from the humdrum drudgery of poverty that makes up daily life in Malawi," he said.

Hajat said Malawians would be voting on simple bread and butter issues in Tuesday's balloting.

"The issues are very simple; there's not much ideology involved. It's all about how is my future going to be secured, how will I get my fertilizer? How will I be able to feed my family, and how will this leadership look after me?" Hajat said.

He also said some Malawians see Tuesday's vote as a platform that would usher in a new democratic dispensation since independence 44 years ago.

"We've got serious challenges and we are now looking forward to a new platform. This is the last hurrah of the dinosaurs, the people who emerged from the Dr. Banda (Hastings Kamuzu, Malawi's first president) one-party authoritarian regime. And I think this is now going to set the stage for future evolution of a vibrant, young fresh democracy in Malawi," Hajat said.

The leading challenger to incumbent President Mutharika in Tuesday's election is John Tembo who heads the newly formed coalition between the Malawi Congress Party and United Democratic Front party of former President Bakili Muluzi.

Hajat said local people refer to the new coalition as a marriage of inconvenience, and that it was not clear what the coalition's impact would be in Tuesday's election.

"It is actually two unlikely political partners who have been very derogatory of each other in the past have come together for a very short term objective and that is to oust Dr. Mutharika. It is not well known as to what the agenda is in the event that they win the election, how the cabinet will be comprised," Hajat said.

He said he does not believe the main objective of the coalition between the Malawi Congress Party and United Democratic Front party is to win the presidency but rather Hajat said the emphasis could be to win the majority of seats in parliamentary.

Hajat said he doesn't believe the political differences between President Mutharika and former President Bakili Muluzi for the last four years would have any significant impact on how Malawians cast their votes Tuesday.

"I think the voting patterns in Malawi tend to be regionalistic, ethnocentric and the final analysis is not the hate speech and character assassination from the podium but really where one's loyalty lies, where one's tribal instinct lies, and where one's future lies," Hajat said.

He said he does not think the global economic crisis would impact the way Malawians vote Tuesday.

"You see we're not really wired into the rest of the world vis-à-vis banking, etc. Actually I would say Malawi's insularity has actually worked in our favor. The only adverse impact we could really foresee would be the reduction of aid and assistance to Malawi on one hand and perhaps the lowering of export proceeds on the other," he said.

Hajat said some Malawians believe Tuesday's vote will not free and fair.

"No, the election will not be free because the public media has been blatantly biased for one thing, and secondly the electoral commission has been beset by all kinds of challenges which are not all its own fault. For example, the donors only release money to the electoral commission three to four months before the elections. As a result everything is done with unseemly last minute haste, and when you do things in that kind of hurry then definitely things will go wrong," Hajat said.

Published with the permission of Voice of America
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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