Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has announced that it will continue with countrywide anti-Jane Ansah demonstrations, this time saying it is targeting the ongoing 21st Annual General Conference of the Electoral Commissions Forum for Sadc Countries (ECF-Sadc) in Blantyre.
However, the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) Chairperson Ansah and ECF-Sadc officials, at the start of the summit at Sunbird Mount Soche amid tight security, avoided commenting on the post-election impasse.
Ansah was making a rare public appearance months after Mec declared President Peter Mutharika the winner of the presidential election which Malawi Congress Party and UTM are challenging in court with HRDC organising the protests.
In a statement and subsequent press briefing held in Lilongwe yesterday, HRDC officials said the protests would take place from September 25 to 27 2019 to force ECF-Sadc to come up with a detailed roadmap on Malawi’s political impasse.
HRDC Central Region Chairperson, Billy Mayaya, said in Blantyre, the protesters would move from Kamuzu Upper Stadium through Masauko- Chipembere Highway to Mount Soche Hotel where the conference, which started yesterday, is taking place.
“We intend to read out a petition and present it to Sadc leadership. We seek electoral justice through the forum pertaining to the tripartite elections that took place in the country. We expect the Sadc electoral body to be upholding democratic values and principles which include the right to demonstrate and the right to assembly, so it is unfortunate if someone misconstrues our act as hostile,” Mayaya said.
He said HRDC expects security agents in the country to work within their mandate and protect the protesters.
Mayaya said it was embarrassing for Ansah to chair and host a conference which seeks to advance credible elections in Southern Africa when she, according to HRDC mismanaged Malawi elections results.
HRDC Chairperson, Timothy Mtambo, speaking separately, accused ECF-Sadc of taking Africans for granted, raising concern over Sadc’s silence on Malawi’s electoral stalemate.
“To say the least, we have not even heard anything from them, and they have the audacity to come here and hold a conference. And now we know that even Sadc is behind this issue of giving Jane Ansah consolation and comfort. They know that whatever happens in Malawi will set precedence in their countries,” Mtambo said.
Meanwhile, UTM vice president, Michael Usi, has cautioned electoral stakeholders striving to end the post-election impasse to tread carefully, saying the ongoing demonstrations were issue-based.
Speaking at the opening of the conference, ECF-Sadc Executive Committee Chairperson, Notemba Tjipeuja, said they were not in Malawi to comment on the impasse.
Tjipeuja spoke after Vice President, Everton Chimulirenji, had opened the conference.
“We came up with a report which was issued. We are also aware of the ongoing court cases. We understand that commenting on cases that are in court is subjudice so we are not prepared as forum to make any comment on the matter,” she said.
Malawi is hosting the conference at a time results of the presidential elections in the May 21 tripartite elections are being challenged in court and on the streets with some quarters saying the country does not have a moral standing to host such an event.
But Ansah, who is ECF-Sadc president, said could not comment on the calls that the country should not have hosted the event.
“Everyone has a right to their opinion but you should know that we did not just wake up today and host this conference. When we met in Lesotho last year, Malawi was elected president of the forum and this was our turn to host the conference here,” she said.
Ansah also said the hosting of the event was not an endorsement of the elections which are being challenged in the courts.
Speaking earlier, Ansah said elections management bodies in Sadc face challenges in their pursuit of free, fair and credible elections.
“Let me point out that limited independence, unclear mandates, inadequate resources, issues of appointment and tenure of commission members are some constraints elections management bodies are facing in the region,” she said.
Chimulirenji said the conference would enable election management bodies to share notes on the election management processes.
“This meeting has just come at a right time when we have just conducted elections in South Africa, Mauritius and Malawi this year. We are also having elections in Mozambique Botswana and Namibia later this year. As such, this is the appropriate time for all the stakeholders to reflect on our past,” he said.
Mec also hosted a similar forum in 2002.
There was tight security at Sunbird Mount Soche at the beginning of the conference involving delegates from electoral commissions from across Sadc region.
Everyone was electronically searched on their entry into the fully packed Njamba Room to ensure maximum security of the delegates who included Ansah.
Hundreds of police officers surrounded the hotel and other areas in Blantyre Central Business District.