When the Malawi Election Commission (MEC) Chairperson, Justice Jane Ansah, officially launched the campaign period for the July 2 fresh presidential poll on May 2, her message was clear.
Under normal circumstances, the official campaign period is a time when all contesting candidates and political parties are free to sell themselves to the electorate.
But the circumstances under which Malawi is going to hold election is not normal, given that the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country is growing by day.
“Being a very critical period of our electoral calendar, I have some words to all candidates, registered voters and all stakeholders considering that campaign will be done at a time we have the COVID-19 pandemic in Malawi and globally. With respect to the global pandemic on the coronavirus and various public health guidelines and restrictions in place, candidates will have to find other innovative ways of reaching out to the electorate,” said the MEC chairperson.
Presidential candidates in the July 2 poll presented their nomination papers to MEC chairperson on May 6-7, stamping their will to contest in the race for the country’s hottest seat.
On May 8, MEC and President Peter Mutharika lost the appeal case in which they wanted the Supreme Court to rule against the High Court’s annulment of May 2019 presidential election.
The Supreme Court thus upheld the annulment and described the appeal as “embarrassing, hard to make sense from” and that the fresh election should be conducted as ordered by the High Court on Feb. 3.
With the campaign period officially launched and the Supreme Court ruling in favour of the fresh election, both ruling and political party leaders started steamy campaign trails across the country from May 9.
The crowds that the political leaders are pulling in their political campaigns are in thousands, with no adherence to one of the key COVID-19 measures of social distancing.
The development does not only contravene MEC chairperson’s call for “innovative ways of reaching out to the electorate,” but it also puts lives of Malawi’s population of 18 million at risk of contracting the global pandemic.
Health authorities in the country have condemned the laxity that the public has taken in as far as social distancing is concerned and they have warned that the country could face an upsurge of COVID-19 cases.
“As health workers, we find the development very disheartening because we would have expected our political leaders to lead in embracing the health guidelines,” Director of Health and Social Services for Blantyre District Hospital, Gift Kawalazira, told the local media Monday.
Kawalazira also called on individuals to make personal efforts in maintaining social distance and following all health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Global Health Specialist and Malawi’s Director of Quality Management Department in the ministry of health, Andrew Likaka, has also emphasized on social distancing as paramount measure against the spread of COVID-19.
Likaka warned in his presentation to local broadcasters Monday that “if nothing serious is done to stop the spread of the pandemic, at least 1.5 million people will contract coronavirus with 30,000 people needing critical care by the end of the year.”
The fears were also earlier raised in strong terms by the Secretary for Health, Dan Namarika, on April 23 when Malawi registered 10 confirmed cases in 24 hours.
“We are at war and the war continues, it’s up to us Malawians to choose. We have the opportunity to control the disease,” said Namarika, adding that “we already have volatile health situation in the country which is not found in many countries making us more disadvantaged.”
According to Namarika, the model that the country is using to analyze the impact of COVID-19, the pandemic has the potential of causing 50,000 deaths, in Malawi with 5,000 of the deaths occurring in the capital, Lilongwe.
Meanwhile, Minister of Health and Population Services, Jappie Mhango, has condemned public gatherings organized by politicians in the wake of COVID-19, which has killed three and infected 57 people with 24 recoveries as of May 11.
Although public and private schools remain closed since March, church gatherings continue with strict social distance compliance while bars, central and mobile markets remain open with little compliance to social distancing.
The fresh election campaign trail is expected to run up to June 30. Therefore, Malawians are caught between two critical wars: the global pandemic and the presidential poll. Enditem