Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has warned contestants in Karonga Central Constituency by-election that it will cancel the November 10 poll should the current wave of violence continue.
The contention is mostly between Tonse Alliance main partners—Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM Party—which has seen continued violence resulting in 12 people injured.
A third player is Citizens for Transformation (CFT), whose leader Timothy Mtambo is also Minister for Civic Education and National Unity. Its members are divided over the party’s imposition of the MCP candidate, and on Tuesday they went to town, smashing each other with beer bottles and fists.
In a statement on Thursday, MEC chairperson Justice Chifundo Kachale reminded all stakeholders that violent activities during electoral period remain criminal, further advising security agencies to take appropriate measures as required by law.
It reads: “All political parties and candidates are advised to observe the code of conduct they signed for during nomination. The commission will intensely monitor all campaign activities being conducted in the constituency and will not hesitate to enforce full compliance of the code of conduct by any of the electoral stakeholders.
“The commission is warning all the candidates, political parties and the electorate in the constituency that if acts of violence and intimidation persist, it will have no choice but to call off the by-election to protect lives and property.”
Kachale noted that campaign period has been peaceful in Lilongwe North West Constituency and Makhwira South Ward in Chikhwawa, but they have received complaints and reports of incidences of violence, intimidation and verbal abuse in Karonga.
“The commission is concerned because the violent incidents have potential to scare away the electorate from attending political rallies and participating in polling on 10th November, 2020.
“The commission appeals to all political leaders to preach peace and tolerance during the campaign period. They should focus on issues other than character assassination which can easily breed violence and aggression. The commission is especially appealing to the youth to refrain from being used to perpetrate violence,” added Kachale.
Karonga Police Station spokesperson Enock Livason confirmed arrest of two CFT members, but could not explicitly divulge the details.
He said: “I can confirm that we arrested two men, one from Karonga and another from Msundwe in Lilongwe and are now out on police bail. The reason is they were fighting. We are investigating all cases of violence.”
Christened ‘Benghazi’ due to its violent conduct during elections, the constituency has never been short of assault cases during campaign rallies, and the lack of conclusion of cases is leading to more violent conduct.
MCP second vic-president Harry Mkandawire accused UTM of causing violence, claiming its candidate Frank Mwenifumbo knows that he is losing; hence, causing violence for MEC to call off the poll.
He said: “From the reports that I am getting, UTM know that they are trailing, and are deliberately causing violence so that MEC cancels the election which is very unfair. We are campaigning peacefully, nobody has been arrested from MCP for violence.
“We have always advised our members to be peaceful. In terms of the alliance with UTM, people should not be worried. It’s just an individual.”
UTM secretary general Patricia Kaliati said she would not be pointing fingers at parties, but blamed the police and MEC for not doing anything to unearth the cause of the violence.
She said: “If anything, I will blame MEC because they have a policy which they are supposed to be following. But I also blame the police because they are supposed to protect people. Let police and MEC be on the ground to see who is causing the problems.
“MEC called for elections, and are supposed to ensure that there is security. They cannot just call it off. What have they done to stop the violence? They have to work hand in hand with police.”
In an interview political and administrative studies lecturer at Chancellor College, Mustafa Hussein, stressed the need for the two parties to explain to their followers on what the alliance means.
He said: “When you resort to violence, relationships are affected, they are strained and that may have implications even at higher level and may affect the way the alliance is working, irrespective of how the picture at the top may be painted.”
Hussein said it is high time President Lazarus Chakwera and Vice-President Saulos Chilima—who leads UTM —intervened in the matter to encourage peace among their supporters so that sanity returns.
In a 2016 study on Electoral Conflict and Violence in Malawi: Patterns, Nature and Mitigation Measures, governance specialist Henry Chingaipe observed perpetrators of violence are not usualy arrested or charged, while victims receive little or no redress.
He recommended that preventing electoral conflicts and violence requires building and nurturing institutional arrangements that enjoy broad-based legitimacy so that democratic electoral competition does not accord violence a place in strategies for winning elections.