- Terrorise Capital Hill in electoral results protest
Malawi Congress Party (MCP) supporters protesting the May 21 Tripartite Elections results yesterday raided Capital Hill in Lilongwe where business ground to a halt as civil servants abandoned their offices.
The protesters’ march from MCP headquarters at City Centre to government’s seat was themed Mutharika Must Fall and meant to exert pressure on President Peter Mutharika, who has been sworn-in for a second five-year term of office, to step down.
A similar march was held in Blantyre where scores of MCP supporters braved rain showers and walked from the party’s regional offices near the Independence Arch to Blantyre central business district through Masauko Chipembere Highway.
However, the conduct of the supporters, especially in disrupting business at Capital Hill, was in sharp contrast to the position declared by MCP president Lazarus Chakwera on Friday that the party would pursue its case through the court while ensuring that law and order reigns.
The MCP supporters, predominantly clad in red branded T-shirts and other regalia, hoisted tree branches as they marched to the seat of government while accompanied by police officers.
However, the marchers were intercepted at the main gate to Capital Hill by armed police who engaged in a discussion with representatives of the protesters.
Despite the volatile situation, the police demonstrated remarkable restraint and let in the marchers who broke into song and dance along the Capital Hill roads before gathering at Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs building.
No sooner had the protesters invaded the premises than some civil servants were seen dashing to their vehicles and left through the northern gate to the complex.
The marchers included MCP deputy campaign director George Zulu, re-elected Lilongwe City South East parliamentarian Ulemu Msungama and newly elected Lilongwe City Centre legislator Alfred Jiya.
In an interview at the scene, Zulu said MCP supporters would camp at Capital Hill demanding Mutharika to step down while the court case seeking nullification of election results progresses.
He said: “The courts have their way of doing things and they will be doing that. On the other hand, we are going to continue camping here, especially during working days so that no one works at the government offices.”
Zulu said if the system delays to decide on vote recount, then Mutharika would be forced to resign to pave the way for fresh elections or a declaration of Chakwera, who finished second according to results announced by Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), as the country’s President.
But social and political commentator Rafiq Hajat said shutting down Capital Hill was not in the best interests of the country as the action could negatively impact on delivery of services.
He said: “Given that MCP has launched a case in court, by going to Capital Hill they clearly lost the plot. MCP is entitled to peacefully demonstrate, but not to cripple the government.”
Hajat warned MCP leadership against being driven by anger in its reactions.
While commending police for exercising restraint throughout, he advised MCP leadership to find other ways for their supporters to express their frustrations than shutting down the government.
A civil servant working at the far end of the government buildings at Capital Hill, reported that all was peaceful and work was progressing normally until the raid.
The civil servant said fear gripped some of her colleagues who could not leave after MCP supporters had blocked the main gate and started directing traffic.
She said: “I left using the gate facing Area 10 road after I heard the supporters were approaching the main gate. I feared tear gas could be fired.”
In Blantyre, Blantyre City Council (BCC) chief executive officer Alfred Chanza, in a telephone interview, said MCP did not seek permission to march, but the party’s leaders claimed it was not necessarily a march but a walk.
He said: “We were just surprised to see people marching on our streets without asking us to give them permission. That is anarchy and should not be tolerated. Normally, if any group seeks permission from us we inform the police to provide security.”
The march was preceded by prayers at the party’s regional offices led by campaign director Moses Kunkuyu who denied causing anarchy, saying MCP members were only exercising their “right to walk within the city”.
He said: “Who told them [BCC] that it was a march? We gathered at our regional head office from there we started walking to Blantyre. I have not seen any law that prohibits walking.
“The police stopped us at Chichiri and we told them we were simply walking. Mind you, we will continue to walk just like everyone else does.”
In an address to the marchers later, Kunkuyu said the prayers were meant to seek God’s intervention on what he described as ‘injustice’ in the way the elections were conducted. But he denied that the activities of the party were aimed at making the country ungovernable.
MEC declared Mutharika winner of the presidential race with 1 940 709 votes or 38.57 percent. The electoral body said Chakwera finished second with 1 781 740 votes, representing 35.41 percent of the vote while Chilima, who debuted on the presidential ballot on a UTM Party ticket after falling out with Mutharika last June, was third with 1 018 369 votes or 20.24 percent.
MCP contends that Mutharika “won a fraudulent election” fraught with irregularities, including alleged stuffing of ballot papers with pre-marked ballots and tempering with election results sheets through tippexing.