Days after ugly scenes marred the parliamentary by-election campaign in Lilongwe South Constituency, Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has postponed the November 5 vote in the area for safety concerns.
While the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has welcomed the decision, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) is yet to give its official stand but the party’s candidate, Peter Dimba has threatened to take legal action against the electoral body.
In a statement signed by chief elections officer Sam Alfandika, MEC said its commissioners on Tuesday and resolved to postpone the by-election following attacks on some of its officials and violence that has led to injuries and damage of property.
Reads the MEC statement: “The commission has received a complaint regarding the volatile situation in Lilongwe South. The commission and staff have also been victims.
“On October 25 2019, one of the MEC commissioners was blocked and stoned while on a campaign monitoring exercise. Secretariat staff who were putting up posters were also stopped and verbally intimidated.”
But Alfandika said the electoral body will proceed with local government by-elections in Matenje Ward in Kasungu because the situation there is calm.
He said: “So far, the commission has not received or witnessed any act of violence in Matenje Ward and all the voter mobilisation activities and meetings have been running without interference.”
Tension and violence escalated on October 25 when at least 13 houses were reported torched and some people sustained injuries at Ndaula Trading Centre in Traditional Authority Masumbankhunda.
Witnesses said the situation was sparked by speculation that some DPP functionaries, who said they were registering people for loans using national identity cards, were purportedly “buying votes”.
A resident Danlot Njani said in an earlier interview that it all started when DPP members arrived at Ndaula Primary School purportedly to give people loans.
He said: “Some people became suspicious, an independent candidate, went to check what was happening, but before he could engage the people, others who were watching from a distance started throwing stones.
“They [people] beat the area chairman so badly. As I am talking he is admitted to Bwaila Hospital. His motorcycle was destroyed. His house was not spared either.”
In an interview on Tuesday, Lilongwe Police Station spokesperson Joseph Kachikho confirmed receiving a report on the incidents in Lilongwe South Constituency.
“I can confirm the fracas took place, but we are still investigating the matter. So far, 16 have been arrested and are being kept at Ndaula Police Unit,” he said.
Reacting to MEC’s decision, Dimba said he was disappointed and accused the electoral body of allegedly siding with DPP.
He said: “The isolated incident of violence that happened last Friday was provoked by DPP candidate who was committing a criminal offence of vote buying by getting voters’ ID cards and promising them loans in return. That incident does not warrant cancellation of the by-elections three days away from the closure of campaign period. We will definitely seek legal redress.”
But MCP publicity secretary the Reverend Maurice Munthali referred NPL to his deputy Ezekiel Ching’oma who said the party’s director of elections Elias Chakwera was better placed to comment. However, Chakwera’s phone went unanswered.
DPP spokesperson Nicholas Dausi and the party’s candidate Frank Mazizi welcomed the decision, saying it is overdue as Lilongwe South became a dangerous zone.
Dausi, who is also Minister of Homeland Security, said: “The terrible violence that is happening in Lilongwe is unbearable. In the meantime, prevention is better than cure. When going to Lilongwe South it is like going to a war zone.”
Besides Mazizi and Dimba, three other candidates are vying for the seat. They are Julius Chombwe of Mbakuwaku Movement for Development and independents Patson Kachingwe and Samson Phinifolo.
The by-election in the constituency follows suspension of voting during the May 21 Tripartite Elections due to the death two weeks to polling of a UTM Party candidate, Agness Penemulungu.
During the launch of the by-elections in the constituency, MEC officials also had a rude awakening when voters questioned their credibility amid controversy surrounding the handling of the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections.
Developments at the by-elections launch coincided with a call by National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust expressed by its executive director Ollen Mwalubunju who asked MEC to consider deferring the exercise in view of the elections petition case in court which is inconclusive.
Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), MCP and UTM Party also previously asked MEC not to proceed with the by-elections.