Political parties in the presidential election petition case have differed on mechanisms that would help control their supporters from indulging in violence when judgement is delivered on Monday, February 3 2020.
Malawi Congress Party (MCP), whose leader Lazarus Chakwera is the second petitioner in the case being heard in the High Court sitting as Constitutional Court (ConCourt), has advised its supporters to gather at their designated offices nationwide to listen to the verdict as one way of controlling violence.
MCP Rumphi Chapter has since communicated to the party’s supporters, urging them to gather at its offices to listen to the verdict.
While first petitioner Saulos Chilima of UTM Party says he prefers people to be in the comfort of their homes, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), whose leader Peter Mutharika is first respondent in the case, says people are at liberty to listen to the verdict either at home or at their workplace.
Meanwhile, security and political experts say they would prefer people to remain in their homes as the police would be overstretched to provide security to groups scattered across the country, especially when tensions rise on the part of losers.
But in an interview, MCP spokesperson the Reverend Maurice Munthali justified the move, saying gathering in designated party offices is one way of controlling violence.
He said: “First of all, the people of Rumphi are only heeding to advice from party headquarters who urged people to do that, but it is not mandatory. In other places, we will also have people doing that, so it’s not just in Rumphi.
“It is more dangerous to leave people in the streets, but what we feel is that it will be easy to control people when they meet together. At the offices, they will be under the party leadership who will be able to ensure discipline, so people must not fear anything, it’s easier that way than leaving people in the streets.”
Speaking at an earlier press briefing, Chakwera did not outline how the party would control any form of indiscipline, but urged people to accept, respect, support, and uphold the court ruling.
On her part, DPP secretary general Greselder Jeffrey encouraged supporters to abide by the law, and accept whatever outcome on Monday.
She said: “Our supporters are being urged to support the outcome of the court. The court wanted us to give them 10 names of people who will attend the session, and we did, so everybody, if you stay at home, be home, if you work, be at work, be at your businesses, and listen to the verdict, let us be peaceful.”
In a press briefing in Lilongwe yesterday, Chilima advised the losing party to accept the loss with humility and asked people to listen to the verdict in the comfort of their homes.
He said: “I would prefer that people listen to the verdict in their homes. So, you would sit under a tree, drinking sweet beer and listening to your radio. The court has already stated that they wouldn’t want anyone to be within a 150-metre distance from where they verdict will be [read].”
“I would like to join the growing number of well-meaning Malawians who have repeatedly and in a growing voice called for peace, calm and tranquility in this country.”
Meanwhile, Chancellor College political analyst Ernest Thindwa has said urging people to gather in one place would be inappropriate as group emotions are too difficult to control.
He said: “This idea is not strategic and appropriate. Emotions will be very high and you can’t easily control group emotions. People should better be told to be home, and I would have loved if party leaders went around to their strongholds to tell people to be calm and respect the court’s ruling, beyond just press briefings.
“Imagine if the verdict doesn’t go their way, how will people react? Looking at the current political climate, it will be very dangerous, and don’t expect miracles from the police because they are overstretched and can’t be everywhere controlling assemblies.”
Mzuzu-based socio-political commentator Emily Mkamanga said the best would be for people to remain home.
“People have been angry in this country for too long and for many reasons, so it is difficult to stop them from reacting. The best way on Monday is for them to be home, and listen to the verdict,” she said.
But Mzuzu University security studies lecturer Eugene Njoloma wondered whether MCP has put in place security measures to deal with any incidents of violence that may arise.
He said: “Assuming judgement goes against their expectations, how will they receive the news, how are they going to handle the situation? Are they prepared if it goes against their expectation because the poster going around shows that they already have an expectation?
“In the absence of proper security measures, where there is a group, tension would be high. Am not saying they shouldn’t, but they can, provided there are strict, efficient security measures to handle the situation.”
In an earlier statement, acting Inspector General of Police Duncan Mwapasa said they have put in place necessary measures to control any acts of violence before, during and after the court judgement.