There were mixed fortunes in Blantyre and Mzuzu during demonstrations Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) organised to demand the resignation of Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah.
In Blantyre, civil society organisations (CSOs)under HRDC delivered a copy of their petition demanding the resignation of Ansah whom they accuse of presiding over a fraudulent election.
The march in Blantyre was punctuated by defiance of pre-agreed routes, burning of tyres and blocking of roads with rocks and solid waste. Police reacted by firing tear gas to disperse the crowd.
However, the protesters regrouped while chanting ‘No Tipp-Ex’ in apparent reference to the correction fluid allegedly used to alter some election results sheets.
The gathering was by far the largest for a protest in the city since the July 20 2011 nationwide demonstrations against the administration of former president Bingu wa Mutharika.
Delivering the petition at Civic Centre in Blantyre after marching from Kamuzu Stadium upper ground to Blantyre central business district and back to Chichiri, HRDC Southern Region Chapter chairperson Masauko Thawe warned that if their demands for the resignation of Ansah and her commissioners are not addressed, the group will resort to holding vigils.
The thousands of marchers were joined by politicians, including Malawi Congress Party (MCP) first vice-president Muhammad Sidik Mia and his wife Abida, a legislator, as well as UTM Party vice-president Michael Usi and secretary general Patricia Kaliati.
There were ugly scenes enroute to Civic Centre as protesters pulled down billboards bearing the portrait of President Peter Mutharika.
Blantyre City Council director of human resources Alfred Nyengo received the petition on behalf of his chief executive Alfred Chanza who was out of office.
The marchers disrupted traffic flow on the dual carriage Masauko Chipembere Highway.
In Mzuzu, the protests started on a low note at Katoto, but things got out of hand as protesters marched through the dual carriage Orton Chirwa Highway.
While passing through Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) offices, they hurled stones at the MRA offices amid chants that the public tax collector was being used as a conduit to steal money from poor people.
The marchers turned rowdy at Mzuzu Clock Tower roundabout where they pulled down the perimeter fence of a former leisure centre before invading Mzuzu Prison where warders opened fire to disperse them.
They chanted that the inmates had committed lesser offences than those who ‘stole’ elections and billions of taxpayers money, hence the need to be free them. But the situation was controlled.
While some were at prison offices, other protesters rushed to Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) offices where they broke glasses in the process.
DPP regional governor (North) Kenneth Sanga said three bicycles have also gone missing after the incident.
En route to Mzuzu City Council (MCC) premises to deliver the petition, the protesters continued to throw stones at office buildings until they were stopped by armed police.
Billboards with Mutharika portraits were also vandalised by protesters who set alight palm trees at the Mzuzu Courthouse Roundabout.
Speaking while delivering the petition at Civic Offices, Church and Society of the CCAP Synod of Livingstonia executive director Moses Mkandawire accused Ansah of messing up the electoral process and called on her to respectfully resign.
MCC director of planning and development Alexander Chirambo said the petition would be sent to relevant authorities, but stressed that the protests were partly peaceful.