By Audrey Kapalamula, Manday Pondani & Samuel Kalimira:
Organisers of electoral demonstrations, Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), have said next week protests would be at State houses and lodges if Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) Chairperson Jane Ansah refuses to resign.
Since last month, civil society organisations, operating under the banner HRDC, have been organising nationwide protests demanding the resignation of Ansah for allegedly running a fraudulent election.
HRDC Chairperson Timothy Mtambo and Vice- Chairperson Gift Trapence Friday, after leading another round of march protests across the country, said they are targeting State houses as it is where people who appointed Ansah reside.
“That is where the appointing authority of Ansah lives, so we want President Peter Mutharika should fire her, if not, we are going to conduct vigil at State House,” Trapence said
In Lilongwe Friday, multitude of protesters began marching from Lilongwe Community Centre Ground, passing through Mchesi Township, Kamuzu Central Hospital, Parliament Building before reaching their last point, Capital hill.
At the community ground, Mtambo appealed for peaceful demonstration, urging the protestors to refrain from wreaking havoc in the city.
Lilongwe Police Officer-in-charge James Munthali also asked the protestors not to attack police officers as their duty was to protect them.
Malawi Police Service (MPS) only provided security to the protesters until they reached Capital Hill.
Malawi Defence Force (MDF) deployed its armed officers to man Capital Hill and block the protesters from invading the government offices.
When the protesters had arrived at the entrance where Director of Administration in the Office of President and Cabinet Rashid Mtelera was waiting to receive a petition, HRDC made a U-turn.
“The petition is with government here, so there is no point that we should give them another petition, so we just came to warn them and remind them that they should not take us for granted, next week, we are going to State House,” Mtambo said.
Along the way, one of the protestors, who is gender activist and a member of UTM, Jessie Kabwila also asked the group to refrain from using insulting and demeaning words against Ansah.
“We are marching because Ansah failed to properly manage the elections.
Let’s stop calling her all sorts of names,” she said.
At Capital Hill, some protesters set ablaze bushes surrounding the area and it took some police officers to put oout the fire.
Meanwhile, in Mzuzu, leaders of Livingstonia Synod of Church of Central Africa (CCAP) spiced up anti-Jane demonstrations when they joined the gathering at Katoto Secondary School ground and offered a prayer marking the beginning of protests in the city.
Moderator for the Synod Reverend Douglas Chipofya and his General Secretary Reverend Levi Nyondo arrived at the ground at 09:48 am accompanied by the synod’s Church and Society Programme Executive Director Moses Mkandawire.
Chipofya was given an opportunity to offer a prayer which took three minutesbut was full of sentiments undermining May 21 elections results.
“Mwationa wana winu taunjikapano, wana winu wakulira, wana winu akulira ivyo vilikuchitika pa May 21, Chilungamo chikukutondeka…chili kuwundilika. [Your children have gathered here because they are in pain. They are all crying. They are not happy with what happened on May 21, the justice was concealed. Your children want justice on the elections],” said Chipofya in his prayer.
He further in the prayer accused Mec of failing to manage elections, hence the irregularities.
The protestors marched peacefully and presented their petition and Mzuzu City Council
Acting Director of Administration Christopher Phiri received on behalf of Ansah.
“Our duty is to follow such grievances to relevant authorities and we are going to do it today,” Phiri said.
HRDC Regional Coordinator Happy Mhango said they will hold another protest Tuesday if Ansah decides not to resign.
There was heavy presence of MDF soldiers in the city and the police were few compared with last demonstrations.
In Chitipa, three people were seriously injured and have since been admitted to Chitipa District Hospital after allegedly being beaten by the police in a fracas that ensued during the demonstrations in the district.
The demonstrators went irate after police fired tear gas at them when they tried to force District Commissioner (DC) Humphrey Gondwe to address them after delivering the petition.
In retaliation, the angry crowd torched Forestry Department offices destroying files, computers and other office equipment in the process.
Chipiku Stores and Farmers World offices were also broken into from which mattresses and computers were looted respectively.
The FDH Bank was also targeted in the commotion which saw police arresting two suspects.
The arrests angered the participants in the demonstrations further, who started destroying property demanding release of their counterparts.
“The situation went tense but I can confirm that the two suspects who were apprehended were released and calm was restored, as I speak, we have strengthened security mechanisms around the boma,” said police spokesperson Gladwell Simwaka.
The situation also turned chaotic in Rumphi after the protesters invaded Chipiku Stores where they smashed windows and went away with various items before the police took control of the situation.
In his comment leader of the Civil Society Organizations’ network in Chitipa Sydney Simwaka distanced the protesters from the violence but said a majority of them were not happy that DC Gondwe refused to address them.
Meanwhile, members of HRDC in Karonga have shifted the protests to Tuesday.
The march could not take place yesterday due to the short notice given to DC Emmanuel Bulukutu and the police.
In Blantyre, thousands braved suspected Democratic Progressive Party cadets and Blantyre City Council (BCC) to pour in the streets to force Ansah to step down.
The suspected cadets beat up protesters in full view of police until MDF soldiers stepped in providing safety and security.
Speaking during the demonstrations, Malawi Congress Party Vice-President Sidik Mia hailed the soldiers for siding with the people of Malawians.
“Here we are exercising our right to demonstrate, thanks to the professional army we have. The demonstrations are nothing to do with gender, all we are saying is that Mec mismanaged the elections and, whoever presided over those elections in the capacity of Mec chair should step down,” he said.
MCP Director of Campaign Moses Kunkuyu hailed the protesters who braved the earlier obstacles to march in the city.
The crowd was relatively less than the people who have been attending previous demonstrations but Kuntuyu said what was important was that the message was delivered.
The demonstrations started from Kamuzu Upper stadium through the Masauko Chipembere Highway into Blantyre Central Business District, back the same road to Blantyre City Council.
The demonstrations took place after the High Court gave HRDC a go-ahead after BCC rejected the demos.
BCC Public Relations Manager Anthony Kasunda said the council has appealed against the High Court order at the Supreme Court of Appeal.
Malawi held tripartite elections on May 21 this year but the polls produced contested results that have thrust the country into turmoil.
HRDC and other groups have called on the authorities to account for the controversial way in which the elections were conducted. — Additional reporting by Jameson Chauluka