Eight of the 12 presidential candidates showed up on Tuesday evening at Bingu International Conference Centre for the first ever debate Malawi’s history as the country is gearing up for the May 20 tripartite elections.

The presidential candidates present were Atupele Muluzi of the United Democratic Front, Helen Singh of United Independence Party; James Nyondo of National Salvation Front; Mark Katsonga of Peoples Progressive Movement; John Chisi of Umodzi Party; Friday Jumbe of New Labour Party; Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party and Kamuzu Chibambo of Peoples Transformation Party.

Absent were ruling party president Joyce Banda; Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party, Davies Katsonga of Chipani Cha Pfuko and George Nnesa of Tisintha Alliance.

Media Institute of Southern Africa Malawi Chapter chairperson Anthony Kasunda expressed disappointment at the failure by the four candidates to come for the debate.

Kasunda said Katsonga demanded allowances while Mutharika said the failure was due to logistical challenges but promised to avail himself for the subsequent debates. PP’s publicity secretary Ken Msonda said the president was busy with campaign.

The moderator of the debate Rev. Patrick Semphere posed six questions which every candidate answered. The candidates were asked to explain what qualified them to lead Malawi. They were also asked to outline the strategies they would use to ensure food security; strategies to improve quality education; strategies to improve health services and to fight corruption. They were also asked to give an assurance that they would respect the Constitution.

The presidential debates are organized by a task force which comprises Malawi Electoral Support Network, Misa-Malawi, Malawi Police Service; Malawi Electoral Commission among others. The debates are funded by Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (Osisa) and UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

The next debates are scheduled for April 29 and May 6.