Tension, suspicions and in some cases calm characterised parliamentary and Local Government by-elections in three constituencies and three wards in Central and Southern regions yesterday.
Despite an impressive turnout in Nsanje Lalanje Constituency, tension, particularly between main rivals Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) supporters, nearly marred the poll.
Voting in the constituency started peacefully in nearly all the 13 polling centres, but as time passed by, reports of conflicts between MCP and DPP supporters started emerging.
They primarily emanated from two polling centres—Bangula Primary School and Phokera Primary School—which are considered strongholds for the opposition MCP and DPP, respectively.
For example, uproar broke out at Bangula Primary School centre after a suspected DPP member was manhandled for allegedly persuading voters to vote for his party.
The suspect survived mob justice by irate MCP followers and was whisked away by the police and Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa just when people were about to start stoning him. He was later driven to Chiromo Police Station for safety.
Another suspected DPP member was also roughed up by angry people on suspicion that he was canvassing for votes.
But in an interview, Mwafulirwa said the uproar was as a result of misunderstandings between the suspects and people at the centres.
Meanwhile, scores of DPP and MCP senior officials such as members of Parliament (MPs) were spotted driving around the constituency since Sunday.
Over 100 uniformed and plain-clothed police officers, including National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) officers, were also deployed around the constituency creating an atmosphere of suspicion.
In Lilongwe City South East Constituency, some men suspected to be DPP operatives yesterday captured two MCP election monitors for Kamuzu Palace Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) polling station and handed them over to police, accusing them of displaying party material within a polling station.
The incident happened near a roadblock on the road to State House, about two kilometres away from the polling station.
MEC regulations require that no-one should display any political party material within a radius of one hundred metres from a polling station.
MCP monitors, Alfred Jiya and Emmanuel Thembachako, who were detained by Area 44 Police Unit, were later released on bail after being charged with conduct likely to cause breach of peace.
The two claimed they knew the suspected DPP operatives who arrested them, saying they belong to the ruling party secretary general Greselder Jeffrey’s security personnel.
But Jeffrey rubbished the claims, saying she does not have any security detail as she is not entitled to any.
In Lilongwe Msozi North, voting took place in a peaceful manner except at Mwatibu Polling Station where indelible ink did not show on the voters’ index fingers, prompting monitors such as MCP parliamentarian Lewis Chakhwantha to call for a temporary suspension of voting.
It later turned out that the indelible ink required some time to show on the voters’ fingers and voting resumed after 15 minutes.
In Ndirande-Malabada Ward in Blantyre City Central Constituency and Mtsiriza Ward in Lilongwe, voting went on smoothly despite a low turnout.n