By Stephen Dakalira:
Malawians, particularly a majority of those who took part in the decisive May 21 Tripartite Elections, have been relentless in their quest to push for the ouster of Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) Chairperson Justice Jane Ansah, SC. The learned judge, who has had a lengthy distinguished career in the Judiciary, presided over the election, which some argue was marred by irregularities, most notably when it came to results management.
Since calls for her ouster began, Ansah has but only spoken out once publicly; a much different approach to the path she took in the course of the election period where, together with her commissioners, she regularly addressed the public and the media. Some have hinted that, being someone with a legal background, the Mec Chairperson might be deliberately calculative in as far as addressing the public is concerned, while she keeps a close eye on developments at the Constitutional Court where UTM leader Saulos Chilima and Malawi Congress Party president Lazarus Chakwera are contesting the outcome of the presidential election. On the other hand, some would argue that Ansah might be deliberately staying away from the public limelight because, last time she spoke out, her actions divided public opinion.
Buoyed by Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC)— which has been facilitating and coordinating a series of what are being described as ‘peaceful’ demonstrations the protesters have been relentless and, at times, their actions have triggered general fears among the populace of the situation possibly degenerating into chaos. Try all they could, but it appears it would take a little more than demonstrations to kick Ansah out of the ‘comfy’ chair at Mec premises.
Sprouts of violence have , in recent weeks, emerged in districts such as Karonga, Rumphi and Mzuzu City, weeks where both privately-owned and public property has been destroyed, giving the authorities some serious food for thought. No wonder the Inspector General of Police (IG), Rodney Jose, was forced to issue out a desperate call to HRDC to immediately put to a stop the wave of protests that, in his words, seem to overwhelm the law enforcers (despite getting re-enforcements from military police). In fact, according to Jose, his letter to HRDC was not a simple “request” but rather a “demand” that they stop holding the demonstrations.
It is quite sad that innocent Malawians, who have little or nothing to do with the outcome of the presidential election, have ended up on the receiving end of the current political strife. It beggars belief that people could stop so low as to pelt motor vehicles on the roads with stones, not to mention torch and loot shops, public offices and people’s houses.
While I find the concern about threat to lives and destruction of property genuine, I am inclined to agree with the likes of social commentator Rafik Hajat and University of Livingstonia-based analyst George Phiri that the argument of police being overwhelmed as propounded by Jose is laughable and unacceptable, especially coming from State agency, running on taxpayers’ money, that is fully mandated to give the public adequate security. The IG, whether he likes it or not, just has to find a way to make things work because it is not a matter of choice but core responsibility and duty of the police to provide security to all manner of citizens in the country. As rightly argued by experts, the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi is and remains sole supreme law of the land and guarantees the citizenry that right to assemble and march peacefully and there is little that anyone, including the IG, can do about it unless and until that particular section gets amended.
Pardon me, I seem to have digressed a bit. My focus is on the ceaseless calls from the protesters for Justice Ansah to step down. Without wanting to sound judgemental, what remains crystal clear amidst this stand-off is that while the learned judge remains resolute in her decision not to stand down, sadly, that is coming at a cost as property worth billions of kwacha has been looted and destroyed and if organisers of the demonstrations do not change their approach anytime soon to keep out looters and perpetuators of violence, then we could be in for more trouble.
It is interesting to note that while the public has been up-in-arms baying for Ansah’s blood, the appointing authority President Peter Mutharika, who coincidentally was the benefactor of the May 21 presidential race as he was declared to winner by the Ansah-led Mec, has looked the other way as he appears to be unperturbed by the goings-on around him. But, then, just like the Mec Chairperson, we are all aware that Mutharika also happens to have legal clout, having lectured in the law field for years, thus he could as well be bidding his time to act while carefully watching events that will unfold in the courts.
So, as we all anxiously await the outcome of the case at the Constitutional Court, amid the property losses already recorded, and with HRDC announcing that the next set of demonstrations is set for August 6 and Ansah standing her ground by not stepping down, the question on most people’s minds is; who will bell the cat?
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