State Vice-President and Tonse Alliance running mate Saulos Chilima was yesterday forced to call off his scheduled whistle-stop tours in Machinga after political violence reappeared ahead of fresh presidential elections.
Suspected United Democratic Front (UDF) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) functionaries blocked Bakili Muluzi Highway with logs while hurling insults and burning tyres to foil the VP’s motorcade from passing.
The incident comes barely a week after another attack on Tonse Alliance members in Liwonde and Phalombe where some private media personnel covering the campaign trail were injured after their vehicle was smashed.
A day later, irate Mponela residents in Dowa burnt tyres on the road, blocking DPP/UDF running mate Atupele Muluzi on his whistle stop tour to Kasungu en-route to the Northern Region.
Chilima, who is also leader of UTM, was supposed to conduct whistle-stops at Nselema, Ngokwe and Ntaja, before winding up at Mangochi Turn-off in Liwonde. He later cancelled the tour to evade clashes.
As events unfolded, Chilima’s press secretary Pilirani Phiri tweeted: “Political violence rears its ugly face again in Machinga. VP Chilima has cancelled his whistle-stops at Ngokwe and Ntaja after DPP/UDF thugs armed with pangas blocked the road at Nselema… To avoid confrontation, cancellation was option 1.”
But while the alleged party functionaries were busy destabilising peace, their leader and State President Peter Mutharika was preaching the need for national peace and unity at Parliament through a recorded State of the Nation Address (Sona).
In a telephone interview, UTM publicity secretary Joseph Chidanti-Malunga decried the incident claiming there were still some people being sent by “obvious politicians we know to destabilise a free and fair campaign”.
“They do not understand the whole concept of democracy. If we all start doing that, then they have more areas to protect themselves than us. What they are doing only shows the level of how much uncivilised they are.
“We play civilised politics. They think ruling a country is by stoning, insulting or hacking people. It is about policies and they cannot force people to make a choice they do not want. So, for today, we have cancelled everything until tomorrow,” said Chidanti-Malunga.
There was no immediate comment from the UDF, whose leader Atupele comes from the area where the fracas occurred. But DPP spokesperson Nicholas Dausi distanced his party’s involvement in the violence, claiming as a ruling party they always advocate peace and unity.
Chilima alongside other members of Tonse Alliance have been in the Eastern Region districts of Zomba, Machinga and Mangochi conducting a series of whistle-stop rallies ahead of elections whose date remain uncertain.
Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD) executive director Kizito Tenthani told Weekend Nation that political leaders need to be exemplary by encouraging peaceful co-existence.
“If political leaders were willing [to end violence] these violent acts could have ended; unfortunately they are not. For instance, if the President ordered the police to produce a report on all perpetrators of violence within a day, people will certainly see change,” he said.
However, the leaders have engaged in a blame-game, lashing out at each other, alleging they are masterminding the increasing political violence for fear of losing the elections.