Battle lines are in place in what appears to be a staring match between President Peter Mutharika and opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) leader Lazarus Chakwera who will tomorrow lead marches on State House and some government offices nationwide.
Chakwera’s plan to mobilise the marches follows the arrest of HRDC vice-chairperson Gift Trapence and executive member Reverend McDonald Sembereka on Sunday evening. Yesterday, the coalition’s national chairperson Timothy Mtambo handed himself in to police in Lilongwe after two days on the run with a warrant of arrest hanging over his head.
The police actions came after the President ordered the Malawi Defence Force and the Malawi Police Service (MPS) to do everything in their power to stop HRDC—which Mutharika says is a terrorist organisation—from demonstrations that threatened to shutdown State residences.
MCP spokesperson the Reverend Maurice Munthali confirmed in an interview that the demonstrations are aimed at forcing the MPS to release Mtambo, Trapence and Sembereka, who have been arrested for planning to lock down State Residences on March 25.
However, in a letter of notification issued to Lilongwe City Council chief executive officer John Chome, MCP cites other reasons behind the nationwide demonstrations besides forcing police to release the human rights activists.
In an interview, Munthali said yesterday that whether police free the three or not, MCP will proceed with the demonstrations as they are also meant to caution President Peter Mutharika so that he addresses some issues of national importance.
He said the demonstrations are against the failure by the Executive arm of government to uphold the rule of law “manifested in its apparent attack on the Judiciary, blatant disregard for human rights, failure to assent to the Electoral Bills passed by Parliament, arbitrary arrests of innocent Malawians, failure to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of crimes, broken public service delivery and corruption”.
The letter of notification sent to Chome further states that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government lacks legitimacy to govern because it breached the social contract it entered into with Malawians.
It reads in part: “Malawi Congress Party would like to point out that Mr. Mutharika and [DPP] can no longer purport to have the authority to govern this country when he and his government are in breach of the social contract with Malawians, which is the very basis upon which this authority to govern ought to have been assumed as provided for under Section 12 of the Constitution.
“All persons responsible for the exercise of powers of State do so on trust and only shall exercise such power to the extent of their lawful authority and in accordance with their responsibilities to the people of Malawi.”
According to MCP, the demonstrations will take place in all cities and districts of the country. In Lilongwe, the protesters will proceed from MCP regional and district offices to the district commissioners’ offices where petitions shall be read out and presented to authorities.
This will be the first time for MCP to hold nationwide demonstrations against Mutharika’s government.
Meanwhile, HRDC has postponed its protests scheduled for today.
HRDC national coordinator Luke Tembo said they have cancelled the protests because the three arrested activists are expected in court today.
He said: “Our colleagues will be appearing in court. So, we want to be on the ground with the lawyers. It is not reasonable to go on the streets when our friends are in court”.
Tension has prevailed in the country since results of the disputed May 21 2019 presidential election were announced.
The High Court sitting as the Constitutional Court nullified the presidential election results on February 3 and ordered a fresh poll within 150 days.
Among other issues, HRDC wants Mutharika to assent to Electoral Bills that Parliament passed recently and to fire electoral commissioners as recommended by the Public Affairs Committee of Parliament.