Protesters led by Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) yesterday unanimously resolved not to deliver a petition to Blantyre City Council (BCC) until the council’s chief executive officer Alfred Chanza is back in office.
The protesters, who were on a march to force Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah to resign for allegedly presiding over a flawed electoral process in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections, stopped HRDC regional vice-chairperson (South) Henderson Mhango from presenting the petition to BCC director of administration Lyton Nkata.
In an interview after the march, Mhango said: “We had intended to symbolically present a petition to the BCC, but according to the will of the people who made this demonstration possible, it could only be received by the CEO.
“We feel we are not being respected and for this reason we will step up efforts by, among others, making the route longer.”
He said HRDC would hold another round of demonstrations next week Tuesday and Thursday.
With heavy military presence and police lurking in the background, the protesters marched through Masauko Chipembere Highway from around 10am after disagreements between organisers and security personnel on the approved route which indicated that the march would terminate at the Clock Tower.
Unlike the previous protests when protesters clashed with governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) youth cadets in full view of the police, peace prevailed at the starting point for the demonstrations. Malawi Defence Force (MDF) and Malawi Police Service (MPS) officers formed a security ring.
MDF soldiers maintained a tight perimeter on the protesters who started their march outside the Chichiri Shopping Centre premises whose gates were closed although most shops inside were open to business.
They chanted songs demeaning authorities and called for the resignation of Ansah as they marched along the highway.
But the march was not without ugly scenes as the demonstrators stoned uniformed police officers who stood on guard at Northgate Arcade opposite The Polytechnic.
The protesters defied security orders to end the march at the Clock Tower. They spilled into Haile Selassie Road up to the intersection near the Old Blantyre Magistrate’s Court where speeches were made.
During the march, the protesters also dragged in former president Bakili Muluzi who on Tuesday invited HRDC leaders to a mediation meeting to end the impasse. They carried a specially designed vinyly placard with a message demanding that Muluzi refunds the K1.7 billion he is accused of diverting into his personal bank account during his tenure.
In his remarks, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera, who joined the marchers at Ginnery Corner, said his gesture was to show solidarity with the spirit of the demonstrations.
“Despite attempts by some people to intimidate us, we will not relent. As Malawians, we are seeking justice on the elections case. Let it be known that we know our opponents want to give these demonstrations a bad name,” he said.
UTM vice-president Michael Usi, who also took part in the demonstrations, demanded Ansah’s resignation on ethical ground.
He said: “The country is at a standstill and the economy is being squeezed daily. Much as the MEC chairperson has the legal right to be in that position, but looking at what is at stake, she should consider the ethical demands for her to step down.”
Ansah is on record as having said she would only step down if found in the wrong by the Constitutional Court currently hearing a petition seeking the nullification of the presidential election results over alleged irregularities.