Dialogue efforts by Public Affairs Committee (PAC) to resolve post-May 21 Tripartite Elections tension headed for a deadlock yesterday after three of the parties to the initiative stated conditions that threaten progress.
Through the PAC mediation team headed by Archbishop Thomas Msusa of the Catholic Church’s Archdiocese of Blantyre, President Peter Mutharika of the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) indicated that he was ready to meet the leadership of Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) and UTM Party led by Saulos Chilima who between May 2014 and May 2019 served as the country’s vice-president under Mutharika.
For the potential meeting with HRDC to take place, Mutharika asked the PAC mediators to request HRDC, which has been organising demonstrations to force Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah to resign for allegedly presiding over a flawed electoral process, to stop holding the protests as they turn violent at times.
But the HRDC leadership yesterday told the PAC team that they were willing to meet the President, but would not stop organising demonstrations as they were a constitutional right.
On its part, UTM Party said it can only meet face-to-face with Mutharika if Ansah resigns and after the conclusion of the presidential elections nullification petition case currently being heard by a five-judge panel of the High Court of Malawi sitting as the Constitutional Court.
Yesterday’s developments in separate meetings with HRDC and UTM Party come barely hours after Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera, who is the second petitioner in the presidential elections nullification petition, on Wednesday told journalists he was willing to meet Mutharika.
Briefing journalists after the three-hour meeting held at The President Hotel in Lilongwe, UTM Party director of publicity Joseph Chidanti Malunga said the deliberations were cordial, but they can only commit to dialogue with Mutharika after the court case and a clear agenda for the meeting is outlined.
He said: “As UTM, we are not going to continue with the dialogue until MEC chairperson resigns. But even then, we need to go to dialogue with clear agenda and this should be after the court ruling.”
Earlier, HRDC national chairperson Timothy Mtambo said although they were ready for dialogue, the PAC mediators should urge the President to appreciate the needs of the other parties as well.
He said: “As HRDC, we maintain that we want Jane Ansah and the entire commissioners at MEC to go. We welcome the issue of dialogue with anybody who is willing to dialogue. We are also told that the President said that we should stop demonstrations, we won’t stop [demonstrations] as long as bad things that are happening in the country continue.”
In an interview yesterday, PAC mediation team spokesperson Gilford Matonga said UTM Party’s position will have an impact on their quest for dialogue, but his team will continue engaging them until dialogue process is achieved with every key stakeholder represented.
He said: “Each of these stakeholders is critical to the progress of this country. The peace we are looking for might not be achieved if we ignore any stakeholder.”
Matonga said they still desire to have the face-to-face meeting with all the stakeholders; hence, banking on Saturday prayers to which UTM and MCP have confirmed attendance.
PAC embarked on shuttle diplomacy before, during and after the May 21 Tripartite Elections. During the first round, the team separately met Mutharika, Chilima, Chakwera, HRDC and Ansah.
PAC mediation team embarked on a dialogue initiative in a bid to pacify the governing DPP, HRDC and opposition parties disputing the May 21 Tripartite Elections results, especially in the presidential race.
While PAC rolled out its mediation drive, Chilima and Chakwera filed a petition in court seeking nullification of the presidential election results over alleged irregularities.
Since May 27 when MEC declared Mutharika of DPP as winner of the presidential race, tension has engulfed the country and, in some cases resulting in protests marred by looting and violence.