By Macdonald Thom, Jameson Chauluka & Feston Malekezo:
Thousands of Malawians Thursday took to the streets of the country’s four cities of Lilongwe, Mzuzu, Blantyre and Zomba to express their collective anger and displeasure with the manner in which Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) handled May 21 presidential election results.
The protesters, who are calling for Mec Chairperson Justice Jane Ansah’s resignation, were, in Lilongwe, joined by high-profile figures such as Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera, his UTM counterpart Saulos Chilima, former State vice-president Khumbo Kachali and retired Chief Justice Richard Banda.
It was a march which was supposed to end with the delivery of a petition at Capital Hill but that never happened as the protesters were against the idea of having officials assigned to receive the petition outside the government offices.
Some protesters forced their way into the fence of the government offices before running battles with the police ensued, with some protesters pelting stones at police anti-riot motor vehicles.
The law enforcers initially retreated before one anti-riot vehicle started going towards the protesters. In the pandemonium that ensued, one police officer was injured.
The protesters had earlier entered Parliament Building and pulled down a flag before proceeding to Capital Hill, where Malawi Defence Force soldiers asked the people to leave the government premises.
Calm eventually returned when Chakwera and Chilima spoke to the protesters, urging them not to destroy government property.
“I am crying with you, Malawians, because your vote was stolen. Wakuba akafika pamudzi kuthyola khola kuti akubele mbuzi, mudzi onse umadzuka mpaka wakubayo abweze [those who feel short-changed fight for justice]. Some people were asking why we are taking part in the demonstrations when we have taken the matter to court. The court will do its job but I and other Malawians want to seek justice,” Chakwera said.
Chilima said Ansah must resign considering the irregularities which marred the elections.
“Tinanena kuti mutu wankhani ndi palibe omuopa and if Jane Ansah does not step down by 5 o’clock today, we are going to advise each other on what we should do next. This is just a warm up and we are not going backwards,’’ Chilima said.
Taking his turn, Kachali said: “My fellow Malawians, this is your country. This is not a Tipp-ex country. Forward ever, backward never!’’
One of the organisers of the demonstrations, Human Rights Defenders Coalition Chairperson Timothy Mtambo, speaking at the end of march in Lilongwe, vowed to press for Ansah’s resignation.
“We have been successful; masses are here. Evidence is here. Malawians are unhappy, Malawians are demanding justice. We want Jane Ansah and Mec commissioners to step down. We also want all those involved in this electoral fraud and manipulation to be held accountable. By this evening, we want to get feedback, failing which, we, citizens, will come back to speak out. We are going to instruct the citizens on what to do,” Mtambo said.
Mtambo said although they did not deliver the message at Capital Hill, they would find a way of sending the same to relevant officials.
In Blantyre, thousands, joined by MCP first vice-president Sidik Mia, campaign director Moses Kunkuyu, UTM vice-president Michael Usi, secretary general Patricia Kaliati and patron Noel Masangwi, marched peacefully until police officers fired teargas at them to prevent them from storming Mec head office.
In an interview, Mia said: “We are happy that people came out like this, especially here in Blantyre, because some people think it is their base. Malawians exercised their right to vote and their votes must be respected.”
The protests started from Kamuzu Upper Stadium along the Masauko Chipembere Highway and, although the protesters were supposed to stop at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital roundabout going to Blantyre City Council Civic (BCC) offices, they proceeded to the Central Business District.
From there, they took the Victoria Avenue up to Mount Soche Hotel and then back along the Masauko Chipembere Highway to the BCC to present their petition.
Along the way, the protesters vented anger at President Peter Mutharika’s billboards, tearing them to pieces.
There was a stalemate at the civic offices for over an hour as BCC Chief Executive Officer, Alfred Chanza, did not show up to receive the petition until the two sides settled for the council’s director of human resources, Alfred Nyengo, to receive it.
In Zomba, at around 9:00am, the protesters started marching from the Community Centre via Namiwawa and Kalimbuka streets into the M3 Road on their way to deliver the petition to Zomba District Council.
Notable faces that participated in the demonstrations included Public Affairs Committee spokesperson, Father Peter Mulomole, Chancellor College political analysts Blessings Chinsinga and Boniface Dulani.
One of the protestors, Emmanuel Yongo Mwanyongo, said democracy had won.
In Mzuzu, the demonstrations started with drama and ended up with pockets of violence when protesters started pelting stones at shops and offices along the Mzuzu Highway, urging onlookers from shops to join them.
During the protests, some of the demonstrators branched off to Mzuzu Prison, where they demanded the release of prisoners.
This prompted officers to fire bullets in the air to dispersed the crowd. Some protesters vandalised billboards for Mutharika.
As the protesters approached Mzuzu City Council (MCC) offices, some of them headed towards Malawi Broadcasting Corperation’s Kaning’ina Studios, a move which police officers thwarted by firing teargas canisters at the ‘intruders’.
Speaking after presenting the petition, human rights activist Moses Mkandawire said the demonstrations were peaceful despite pockets of violence.
“Malawians have spoken; they are not happy with the way Malawi Electoral Commission managed the presidential elections. We cannot deny that some wanted to disrupt the demonstrations by causing violence, which has been contained,” Mkandawire said.
MCC acting Chief Executive Officer, Alexander Chirambo, who received the petition, said it was sad that some people destroyed property.
Initially, it was agreed that the demonstrations would start from Katoto Secondary School ground to Mzuzu Highway to Mzuzu Court roundabout, before proceeding to MCC offices.
But the protesters argued that the 2-kilometre route was short. They, therefore, diverted to Luwinga Road, which leads to Mzuzu University campus.
On May 27, Mec declared Mutharika the winner of the presidential elections with 1,940,709 votes against 1,781,740 votes for Chakwera and Chilima’s 1,018,369 votes.
Chakwera and Chilima have taken the issue to the Constitutional Court, citing a number of irregularities.— Additional reporting by Faith Kadzanja, Jarson Malowa and Samuel Kalimira