Vice-President Saulos Chilima, political parties and commentators have condemned the violence that damaged two United Transformation Movement (UTM) vehicles on the eve of its Eastern Region launch in Mangochi yesterday, describing the act as barbaric in a democracy.
Besides Chilima, who is set to lead UTM in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections as presidential candidate, opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), United Democratic Front (UDF), civil society organisations (CSOs) and a political commentator have also spoken against the violence.
In his address yesterday during the UTM rally at St Augustine 3 Primary School ground in Mangochi, the Vice-President said Malawians in June 1993 voted for plural politics; hence, no political leader or grouping should restrict others from freedom of association in any corner of the country.
He called on the youth to desist from being used by political leaders to engage in acts of violence, urging them instead to work and reflect on carving their future.
Said Chilima: “Malawi is one country. We are one people. To the youth, do not allow yourselves to be used to perpetrate violence. We [Malawians] voted for pluralism and democracy entails tolerance.”
Through two separate statements—one signed by secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka and the other from publicity secretary the Reverend Maurice Munthali—MCP urged Malawi Police Service (MPS) to investigate the incidents and bring the perpetrators to book.
MCP said it was still waiting for the logical conclusion of several cases of political violence.
In Lilongwe, UDF president Atupele Muluzi, who is also Minister of Health, also condemned the violence in Mangochi which UTM has linked to the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The condemnation followed events of Saturday night when two UTM vehicles— a Nissan Hardbody registration NS 7932 and a Toyota Hilux registration NA 4112—were smashed and set ablaze, respectively, while parked at two separate lodges around Mangochi Boma.
Earlier yesterday, Mangochi Police Station spokesperson Rodrick Maida confirmed the incidents, but he declined to comment further. He said police needed more time to investigate the matter.
Reacting to the development through interviews, Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) executive director Gift Trapence and Youth and Society (YAS) executive director Charles Kajoloweka said violence should have no space in a democracy.
Said Trapence: “We do not want to have places in Malawi declared as no-go-zones for other political parties. Our message to political parties is that they should stop using violence as a means of suppressing freedom of association or assembly or expression.
“Malawians deserve better and people are after ideologies that will bring a difference to their lives and not savage politics.”
Kajoloweka, on the other hand, said: “This development is quite disheartening and so embarrassing, particularly when we consider that we are almost eight months to elections next year. We cannot be using violence as a weapon to intimidate political opponents.”
Mustafa Hussein, a political scientist who teaches at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, described the violence as retrogressive in the democratic era.
He said: “In a democracy, every party or political organisation has a right to conduct rallies anywhere they want provided they follow procedures. This behaviour is uncalled for and has no room.”
In an earlier interview, UTM spokesperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga accused DPP of having a hand in the violence, claiming DPP is desperate to weaken the movement.
He said: “These are some signs of desperation by DPP camp. But the torching of two of our vehicles is not torching people’s voting right. We are now fired up. Malawians will condemn this in strongest terms.”
But DPP spokesperson Nicholas Dausi laughed off Malunga’s accusation, saying the governing party does not associate itself with violence.
“That is extremely unfair. For what reason should we do that? In a democracy? No! We are not involved. It is not us,” he said.
Dausi said UTM, largely led by former DPP national governing council (NGC) members, should focus on its goals instead of making such wild accusations.
In another interview, UTM secretary general Patricia Kaliati said the grouping will not be intimidated by the acts of violence.
In the run-up to yesterday’s rally, Kaliati and her UTM advance team had a rude awakening in Mangochi when a motorist allegedly deliberately bumped into a Toyota Fortuner Kaliati was driving.
For a long time, Mangochi and the entire Eastern Region, which also includes Zomba, Machinga and Balaka, have politically been regarded as the stronghold of the former governing UDF largely owing to the fact that the party’s founding president and first multiparty Head of State Bakili Muluzi comes from Machinga.
However, in the 2009 General Elections DPP made inroads into the area and won some parliamentary seats before People’s Party (PP)—led by former president Joyce Banda who comes from Zomba—also won some seats in the May 2014 Tripartite Elections.
In the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections, UDF won six of the 12 parliamentary seats in Mangochi while PP won one and independents had five. In Machinga, UDF won five of the seven seats, PP and an independent one each, while in Balaka UDF won one seat, DPP two and an independent one.
In Zomba, on the other hand, PP won five seats, DPP three and independents two. n