Political rivals Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM Party’s Saulos Chilima yesterday fired up protesters in Lilongwe as they hugged and walked side-by-side.
The two were part of an estimated kilometre-long crowd comprising the young and the old, men and women, political party supporters and businesspersons as well as civil society groups and the clergy who formed a united force.
During the protests in Lilongwe, there was no tear gas or confrontation. Malawi Defence Force soldiers were seen reining in Malawi Police Service (MPS) officers, but there was no confrontation and deaths. Few were injured, though.
Several MCP members of Parliament (MPs) also took part in the march organised by Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) as did the party’s supporters and those of UTM Party.
Retired Chief Justice Richard Banda, the country’s former first gentleman as husband to former president Joyce Banda, was one of the rare sights in the front line of the protest. His wife was absent.
The country’s vice-president between April 2012 and May 2014, Khumbo Kachali, who currently leads Freedom Party, was also in attendance.
Misheck Lowole, a visually-impaired man based at Lumbadzi in Lilongwe and walks with the aid of a helper, was part of the procession.
“You can see the people protesting, they are not mad. They feel injustice and I am here to add my voice. I don’t care who won. I want justice,” said Lowole who claimed to be a teacher.
HRDC vice-chairperson Gift Trapence said the civil society organised the protests to demand justice over the election.
He said: “We are not siding with any of the parties, but we want justice to prevail. If she [Ansah] doesn’t resign, we are back to the streets and this time we are not going anywhere.”
Speaking in interviews during the march, Chakwera and Chilima, who between them collectively amassed 2.8 million votes against the declared winner Mutharika’s 1.9 million votes, vowed to continue fighting for justice despite filing a court challenge.
Chilima said the opposition united to demonstrate their displeasure with the results.
Ironically, the two could not unite before the elections, a development that saw them split the opposition vote to the advantage of Mutharika with Chakwera getting 1 781 740 votes and Chilima 1 018 369 votes.
Public Affairs Committee (PAC) executive director Robert Phiri, who was also in attendance, said the multi-faith group supported the protest because the election results did not reflect the will of the people.
“You recall in 2014 there were similar concerns and in 2019 again there have been these issues but more pronounced because of the Tippex. At the end of the day, we are not supporting anyone but we want justice to prevail,” he said.
Throughout the route, the opposition supporters chanted Achoke! Achoke! . As demands for Ansah to quit for allegedly messing up the elections.
Police largely watched them without interference and escorted them throughout the way.
But the march was not without flashpoints as some police officers sustained injuries while one fainted after being assaulted by some protesters.
Along the way, some protesters invaded Parliament Building premises, beating the security. In the process they damaged the barricades at the entrance and exit gates while others were seen throwing stones at the statue of former president Bingu wa Mutharika, the elder brother to incumbent Peter Mutharika.
The overzealous protesters pulled down the national flag at Parliament Building and vandalised a few windows, but they quickly came back to their senses after being rebuked by some of the organisers.
Some of the marchers also diverted to the mausoleum of founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda where they ‘mourned’ his absence while faulting his successors for allegedly messing up the country.
At Capital Hill, a huge contingent of police and military was on standby. Senior government officials, including presidential adviser of non-governmental organisations Mabvuto Bamusi, had planned to receive the petition at the entrance gate. However, the protesters refused and engaged in a confrontation with the police.
The crowd was obliged to disperse after Chakwera and Chilima addressed them.
In their petition, HRDC has given the MEC chair hours to resign, a demand the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal judge has resisted to date.
The protesters also demand an investigation into the supply of correction fluid, Tipp-Ex used to alter some election results sheets and an investigation and prosecution of electoral staff allegedly involved in malpractices, among others.
The petition, signed by Trapence, Billy Mayaya, Masauko Thawe, and Madalitso Banda, further accuses Ansah of celebrating DPP’s victory
Ansah could not be reached for comment, but MEC spokesperson Sangwani Mwafuriwa said she is yet to receive the petition; hence, could not comment.