Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has given President Peter Mutharika 20 days to respond to their petition delivered after the September 21 anti-government demonstrations across the country’s four cities.
In a letter dated October 14 2018 signed by HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo and vice-chairperson Gift Trapence, the civil society organisations (CSOs) have expressed shock at the President’s silence and bemoaned that instead of responding, Mutharika chose to publicly ridicule the petitioners.
The letter reads in part: “Having noted that you have chosen to be sarcastic about Malawians who took to the streets, it is our considered opinion that your office has a condescending view of the issues outlined in the petition.
“It is just a humble reminder that you are still accountable to Malawians; hence, the need for you to respond to the same. We, therefore, interpret your handling of the petition as lack of political will to address important issues affecting the country.”
The CSOs have since asked the President to officially acknowledge receipt and outline a clear action plan within 30 days.
Their letter follows presidential press secretary and spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani reaction last week that the President does not take ultimatums.
He said: “The response has always been there. The President responded through inviting the CSOs to a dialogue [before the demonstrations]. But the CSOs snubbed the talks and they say they gave an ultimatum.
“The President does not take ultimatums from anyone. The CSOs failed to honour dialogue, so it is surprising that they are coming back now.”
In their petition delivered in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba cities, the petitioners among other challenges, said the citizenry was awaiting government action addressing the plunder of public resources, persistent power blackouts and rising unemployment.
The petition was a follow-up on the 10-point petition marchers presented on April 27 this year.
Prior to the demonstrations, government extended an eleventh-hour invitation to the CSOs for dialogue. However, the CSOs pulled out of the talks at the last minute opting to proceed with the protests.
The President, who left for New York on the day of the demonstrations and returned on Monday this week, described the protests as a flop.
But some political commentators have warned the President against ignoring CSOs as they represent Malawians or risk going into the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections “bruised and wounded”.
In the letter, the HRDC has reminded Mutharika that the Constitution that he swore to defend and protect took part in its drafting explicitly provides for peaceful demonstrations and that it is a basic principle in democracy that elected leaders are accountable to the electorate.
They have also queried what they perceive as the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration’s tendency to undermine the content of the numerous petitions, arguing it reflects a lack of will to be accountable to people.
HRDC has also taken a swipe at Mutharika’s adviser on non-governmental organisations (NGOs), Mavuto Bamusi, who recently told our sister newspaper, Weekend Nation that pushing for Mutharika to dialogue with the CSOs was expecting too much.
But Bamusi—himself a former activist—said the CSOs’ letter was full of contractions.
He said: “They have a sole objective to deepen their crusade for pathological hatred of the President.
“They deliberately divert popular attention from the key developmental initiatives and progress.”
Mutharika won the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections with a 36.4 percent vote and has faced a turbulent relationship with CSOs and opposition parties, including a breakaway faction of Vice-President Saulos Chilima and several former DP national governing council (NGC) members who have since formed United Transformation Movement (UTM).
In contrast, his elder brother, Bingu wa Mutharika, impressed in his first term in which he ditched the United Democratic Front (UDF)—a party that sponsored his presidential ticket—and formed DPP which he led to a landslide victory in 2009presidential and parliamentary elections.