Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM Party have blamed Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) for not stopping the vandalism of their campaign materials nationwide.
The two, main challengers of governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the May 21 Tripartite Elections, also blame Malawi Police Service for what they described as selective protection of campaign materials belonging to DPP.
MCP secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka and UTM Party director of publicity Joseph Chidanti Malunga, in separate interviews yesterday, pointed fingers at both MEC and the police for giving a blind eye to their concerns.
Meanwhile, police patrol officers have been sighted, especially at night, in a number of spots in Blantyre where there are campaign billboards for President Peter Mutharika, but it is not known if they were privately hired by DPP.
Mkaka said so far, two of MCP’s billboards valued at K3 million have been destroyed in Blantyre by unknown people suspected to be the party’s opponents.
He said: “So far, our billboard at Kwacha Roundabout in Blantyre has been destroyed this week. Another one at Clock Tower in the same city was also defaced.
“We informed MEC on both cases, but it is surprising that while our billboards are being targeted those of the DPP are being guarded by the police. Yet no one has been arrested for the destruction of our campaign materials.”
On his part, UTM Party’s Malunga said the party’s billboard in Nkhotakota had also fallen prey to political hooligans who defaced it.
“We have lost one billboard and the police are not even investigating the issues. One in Karonga was about to be destroyed but the community chased the people who wanted to destroy it. There is still no word from MEC. But you wonder why it has only to be the ruling party enjoying this kind of protection to its campaign materials.”
By yesterday, reports from Karonga indicated that the UTM Party billboard had been vandalised.
But MEC chairperson for electoral services Jean Mathanga, in an interview ,said the electoral body was yet to receive official complaints from the affected parties.
She said: “We have only heard about the issues in the media, like everyone else. Our expectation is that those that have complaints should formally write us explaining in detail what happened. However, these matters are criminal in nature as such the police have to play their role.”
Mathanga, however, indicated that the National Elections Consultative Forum (Necof) meeting scheduled for this week in Lilongwe would discuss the matter.
But National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera was coy when asked why police were seen guarding billboards belonging to DPP while other parties materials were being vandalised.
He said in a written response: “The police have increased visibility in our cities and towns around the clock to reduce the threat of crime as well as arrest those committing cognisable offences.
“We will continue with patrols and security checks to create safer communities for all during this campaign period and beyond.”
Asked whether the DPP had hired the police to guard its campaign materials, the party’s spokesperson Nicholas Dausi said he needed to consult before giving a response over the matter. But he did not provide the response after several reminders.
DPP secretary general Greselder Jeffrey refused to comment when contacted, referring us back to Dausi.
In his remarks, legal professional Ralph Kasambara said there is no legal justification for the protection of Mutharika’s billboards since they are not part of the Protected Flags, Emblems and Names Act.
He said: “There is no flag or emblem or government symbol to protect. Police are not at fault to guard property be that of the DPP or opposition parties because that is their duty. But they cannot discriminate in their execution of duties.
“So, if they decide to maintain visibility, they should accord the same treatment to all billboards of opposition candidates. What the police are doing is unconstitutional, illegal and unjustified discrimination. They can be sued for it.”
On his part, University of Malawi’s Chancellor College political science lecturer Ernest Thindwa bemoaned the continued use of State organs for the benefit of governing parties.
“While it is their [Police] duty to protect lives and property, what is not acceptable is for our police to be used to offer their services selectively. The continued abuse of the police by government is what makes the police lose trust in people’s eyes.”