Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has indefinitely suspended voter registration at some centres in Blantyre City hours after armed gangs stormed the centres and vandalised registration kits.
In an interview yesterday, MEC chairperson Jane Ansah said the voters’ registration and verification exercise at the affected centres in Ndirande Township and Chirimba Township will resume after the commission gets an assurance from police that the situation is under control.
She said: “The registration has been suspended until when we are assured that the situation is normal because we don’t know what caused it.
“There are maybe four centres [affected]. The matter is with the police and registration will resume until we have been given a green light by the police”.
During spot-checks at Makata, Namalimwe and Matope primary schools and Ndirande Hill and Blantyre secondary schools in Ndirande Township both MEC registration staff and political party monitors were seen visibly traumatised.
At Makata Registration Centre, one of the MEC officers said the centre received information on Monday evening that some people planned to torch registration kits in the city. The officer said the team moved registration kits from their usual room to another house in the school compound following the information.
Said the officer: “We were awake the whole night following the rumour and when we thought that all is well and safe, it’s when we saw about 18 bouncers entering the registration room in the morning and started damaging registration kits.
“They also demanded that we stop voter registration because there is coronavirus. We had two police officers in our midst but we were overpowered, especially because one of the gang members had a gun.”
The official said the thugs struck at around 8.10am when only three people had verified their details.
The development comes barely 16 days after MEC instructed local councils to deploy only one security officer per registration centre, an arrangement Minister of Homeland Security Nicholas Dausi and Malawi Congress Party spokesperson Maurice Munthali faulted as risky.
Dausi said MEC had no mandate to make decisions on security issues.
But MEC spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa justified that the commission thought of reducing the number of security personnel because the traffic to the registration centres would not be heavy saying majority of voters already registered ahead of May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections.
In a separate interview last evening, Southern Region Police Headquarters spokesperson Ramsey Mushani said police arrested one suspect in connection with the violence.
He said the suspect, who was cornered by communities in Chirimba, was later released on police bail because he was in a critical condition after being assaulted by the irate public.
Yesterday, Dausi declined to comment on the matter, saying police are better placed to comment.
Commenting on the developments, political scientist Mustafa Hussein, who teaches at Chancellor College—a constituent college of the University of Malawi, said from the narration the gangs were sponsored by some political parties to disrupt the fresh presidential elections process.
He branded the group as “desperate criminals” and condemned the act.
Said Hussein: “People should remember that we are repeating this presidential election. Every election process requires money and trying to block this fresh presidential elections means draining the tax-payers’ money.”
MEC extended the first phase of voters’ registration and is expected to end on Friday April 17.
MEC is set to hold a fresh presidential election on July 2 2020, a day before the expiry of the 150 days as set by the High Court sitting as the Constitutional Court which nullified the May 21 2019 presidential election.