The Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) on Wednesday led protests to demand that Parliament and President Peter Mutharika allow the fresh presidential election to be held within the timeframe set by courts.
Though the turnout was low, the message on the placards carried by the protesters was clear—that Malawians want to vote on June 23 and will not tolerate any efforts to frustrate the vote.
In their petition delivered to relevant authorities Rumphi District and Mzuzu, Lilongwe and Zomba cities, HRDC states that the rights body wants Mutharika to support preparations for the fresh presidential election and that the date should also be gazetted by Parliament.
It reads in part: “We expect your government to fully support the Malawi Electoral Commission [MEC] with funding for these elections whose budget was already passed by Parliament.
“To refrain from bringing to Parliament selfish Bills that are aimed at serving your personal interests of clinging to power. To ensure that 50 percent+1 for electing the President as guaranteed in our Constitution and ably interpreted by both the High Court and Supreme Court ruling are adhered to.”
In the petition, the HRDC further accuses Mutharika of undermining the independence of the Judiciary and the will of Malawians and alleges that the President wants “to cling to the presidency at the expiry of the 150 days as determined by the courts”.
HRDC has also urged the newly sworn-in MEC commissioners and the MEC secretariat to ensure that they stick to their respective mandates as observed by the Constitutional Court, for Parliament to pass all the necessary legislation to enable Malawians to vote on June 23.
In Mzuzu, the protests started at 10am with few patrons compared to previous protests where thousands would gather. They marched from Katoto Ground to the Mzuzu City Council offices.
The protesters marched peacefully, had a brief stop at Shoprite and Clock Tower roundabouts before proceeding to the civic offices.
HRDC North chairperson Happy Mhango said the demonstrations were held to ensure parliamentarians” continue doing a good job”.
He said: “If we notice that the delays continue from the government side, we will be back in the streets.”
However, after delivering the petition, some protesters started pelting stones at Northern Region Police Headquarters, prompting the police, who accompanied the group all along, to throw tear gas to disperse them.
In Rumphi, one protester died after a vehicle carrying the public address system hit him near Rumphi Police Station.
Northern Region Police spokesperson Peter Kalaya identified the victim as Vincent Chirambo, 35, and said the accident happened after the protesters had already presented their petition.
He said: “On their way back from DC’s office to Rumphi Trading Centre and upon arrival near Rumphi Police gate, the driver lost control of his motor vehicle and hit Chirambo who was walking on the nearside lane of the road heading the same direction.”
According to Kalaya, Chirambo died on the spot due to a head injury, while the driver, Viyezgo Nyirenda, fled the scene and police are searching for him.
Unlike in the past when demonstrators would damage property, Lilongwe had peaceful demonstrations on Wednesday as people marched from Lilongwe Community Ground to deliver their petition at the New Parliament Building.
Some of their placards carried messages of praise for the Judiciary for nullifying the fraudulent May 21 2019 presidential election, while others warned Mutharika that his mandate expires after 150 days from the date of Constitutional Court (ConCourt) judgement.
HRDC leader Gift Trapence, who led the Lilongwe demonstrations, said in an interview that they want the President to uphold the rule of law.
He said: “We don’t want the President to be above the law and we want elections to be conducted on June 23. If there are no elections on that date, we will mobilise Malawians for mass demonstrations on June 24.”
Trapence presented the petition to Lilongwe City Centre MP Alfred Jiya who, in an interview said he will submit the petition to Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani Hara to forward it to the President.
Zomba also experienced a low turnout with less than 30 protesters holding placards with various messages expressing their anger at the prevailing political situation in the country.
In an interview, HRDC chairperson for the East Mada Banda attributed the low turnout to coronavirus pandemic and also said citizens are satisfied with the Parliament decision for the country to hold the fresh presidential election on June 23.
He said: “Let us not focus on the low turnout but on the fact that the petition has been presented for the benefit of the country.”
In Blantyre, RDC leaders postponed the protests at the last minut after the handful of people who had gathered at Kamuzu Upper Stadium for the demonstration later dispersed.
HRDC chairperson (South) Masauko Thawe said: “We did not communicate in time but we have somehow seen progress from Parliament, so we continue to monitor what is happening.” n
—Additional reporting by Lloyd Chitsulo and Holyce Kholowa.