Malawi’s former president, Bakili Muluzi, on Tuesday failed to convince Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) leaders to postpone nationwide demonstrations to force Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah to resign.
Following the ongoing post-election tension, Muluzi offered to meet the HRDC leaders and the two-hour meeting that ended in deadlock took place at his splendid BCA residence in Blantyre.
Apparently, as a show of give-and-take in every negotiation process, Muluzi succumbed to HRDC’s demand to allow the presence of the media after his pleas that such discussions are better conducted in camera were rejected.
HRDC leaders Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence argued that for transparency’s sake and as they were dealing with the issues on trust by Malawians, they needed the presence of journalists.
The journalists, who were standing as they waited for the outcome of HRDC proposal, later took their seats and more journalists, including some from public broadcaster Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), entered the room.
Before he started the conversation and whenever an opportunity arose, Muluzi was in his usual jovial mood, cracking jokes and at one point asking Trapence and the Reverend McDonald Sembereka how Maula Prison was like, in reference to their recent arrests in Lilongwe before they were granted bail.
Tackling the serious business of the day, Muluzi pleaded with the eight-member delegation to postpone their demonstrations and give him at least seven days to talk with government and MEC chairperson Ansah.
However, despite the former president’s pleas, the HRDC team led by its chairperson Mtambo declined on the basis that they will cancel the demonstrations only if Ansah resigns.
In his efforts to convince the HRDC members to soften up, Muluzi reasoned with them that it would be important that they cooled down on demonstrations and discussed with a sober mind.
“Would you not be giving me time to do the consultations that I would want to make? The idea is for you to resolve the matter. I have to go to Lilongwe to meet the people concerned. Let us understand.
“Your supporters are listening to this conversation, this is just a plea. What we are trying to do is stopping these demonstrations continuing until we find a solution to it,” Muluzi, visibly at pains, pleaded.
But the members, however, seemed not to be moved with the pleas as they stood their ground, saying they would still be proceeding with their demonstrations.
Said Mtambo: “We want to live in peace; we have no personal issues against Justice Jane Ansah. The message we would want you [Muluzi] to help us with is to speak to her [Ansah] to resign in the interest of Malawians.”
According to Mtambo, HRDC wants to discuss the electoral reforms which should be re-tabled in Parliament, a constitutional review, corruption, nepotism and abuse of taxpayer-funded institutions such as MBC and Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra).
But on his part, Trapence said it would be hard to trust that they would receive a positive feedback; hence, they would rather proceed until their demand is met.
With two hours of no progress, Muluzi then called off the meeting by assuring them that all the issues raised will be passed on to the relevant parties involved.
In an interview after the talks, Mtambo said they are still open to dialogue with anyone that shows interest as long as the talks are not being held in a manipulative manner and that they expect the talks to be ongoing.
“We will be available anytime but we want to have such discussions in an open manner for the sake of transparency and accountability to Malawians,” said Mtambo.