Hon Folks, as the Constitutional Court is winding up the case in which two Opposition leaders want the results of the May 21 presidential election nullified on grounds that they were fraudulent, civil society leaders have gone full throttle, preparing Malawians to accept and respect the ruling.
At the forefront are Public Affairs Committee (PAC) and Nice Trust. The former, a body to which various faith communities are affiliated, is organising a national day of prayer, where all major contenders in the disputed presidential race will be invited, to pray for the prevalence of peace, tranquillity and unity.
Reason: there’s already too much tension and fear that the court ruling could result in more violence, if not worse.
PAC hopes that the prayers, slated for December 14 at Bingu International Convention Centre in Lilongwe, will foster national cohesion and motivate the political leaders and their followers to respect the court verdict.
On its part, Nice (National Initiative for Civic Education) is on a peace building campaign, engaging leaders at various levels throughout the country to be agents for peace and prepare their supporters to accept the court verdict.
Buffeting these initiatives are interventions by various bodies such as Malawi Law Society, the Catholic Church, CCAP Blantyre Synod and several other faith communities who have either already spoken or have embarked on programmes to reach out to their faithful and the nation at large with messages that can foster peace after the election case.
So divisive has been the outcome of this year’s presidential election that those who voted for change have gone out to the street in large numbers not once, not twice but more than six times, demanding that chair of the Malawi Electoral Commission MEC, Dr. Jane Ansah, should step down for allegedly presiding over a fraudulent election.
The readiness of disgruntled Malawians to turn out and take part in demos again and again at the beck and call of Human Rights Defenders Coalition despite that most of the time such demos have been marred by violence and looting which in turn attract riot police, infamous for throwing teargas canisters willy-nilly, has led political commentators to believe the root cause of the demos runs deeper than mere frustration with Ansah and Mec.
Unfortunately, it appears the three major contenders in the 2019 presidential race have all seen political opportunities in the post-election violence. DPP’s Peter Mutharika has been on denial, relentlessly maintaining that he won “fair and square” and, in the same breath, portraying those disputing his victory as bad losers.
At the UN General Assembly, APM blamed MCP’s Lazarus Chakwera for the violence and praised those on his governing side, saying they hearkened to his call against retaliation, a factor which APM claimed attests to the democratic maturity of his government.
APM’s holier-than-thou stand is echoed by the likes of Minister of Internal Security Nicholas Dausi and Information Minister Mark Botomani despite the fact that it was youths in DPP attire and coming to a DPP function who nearly killed human rights activist Billy Mayaya in Blantyre. We also know that MCP regional offices and MCP vice-president Sidik Mia’s office in Blantyre were petrol-bombed. Though the police did not arrest any DPP hooligans, the Army at least did.
On their part, Chakwera and UTM’s Saulos Chilima also appear to have taken advantage of the massive demos, participating and at times addressing demo participants to carry on without fear, while in the same breath, denying playing any role in the same demos.
Although the two have condemned violent demos in general terms, they’ve been like APM in shying away from acknowledging there could be bad apples among their supporters perpetrating violence and looting. To the two, violence is unleashed by DPP and to APM violence is unleashed by MCP and UTM.
Can the stalemate on the issue of political violence be adequately addressed by faith communities and other CSO players?
My take is no. The CSOs and other leaders can only help reinforce messages that should come from APM, Chakwera and Chilima themselves. These should take the lead in speaking directly to their supporters who cumulatively constitute over 95 percent of voters in the 2019 elections.
Just as they competed in selling their manifestos and campaign messages, this time around they should compete in championing for peace and respect for the rule law by to telling their supporters that the pursuit of justice should never be through violence but dialogue and the courts.
Now is the time for APM, Chakwera and Chilima to also speak with one voice, telling Malawians that what unites us is much bigger than what divides us. Statesmen put country above personal interests.