Opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM Party leaders advised the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) a long time ago against going ahead with by-elections in Lilongwe South constituency and Matenje Ward in Kasungu North-West. The opposition wanted the polls in the two areas delayed because of the potentially volatile situation in the country as a whole. They rightly expected cadets, supporters and sympathizers of the competing candidates to clash during the campaign and further poison the atmosphere. Again, MEC would have none of it.
The background to this is that both MCP and UTM presidential candidates Lazarus Chakwera and Saulosi Chilima, respectively, disputed the May 21 2019 Presidential Elections results after MEC declared the Democratic Progressive Party candidate Peter Mutharika victorious. They claim the elections were fraudulent. They took the matter to court demanding annulment of the results and a re-run for the Presidential Election. But MEC led by its chairperson Jane Ansah believe they none of this. It is for this reason that MEC as second respondent in the Election case is vehemently defending the case.
Weighing in on the UTM Party and MCP leaders’ cause (as first and second petitioners, respectively), the Malawi Human Rights Coalition (MHRC) has been holding nation-wide demonstrations with the aim of forcing Ansah to resign. They claim for presiding over a fraudulent election, she lost the moral ground and trust of the people to continue to be MEC chair.
Ansah, on the other hand, with the support of Mutharika whom she crowned as President, has dug in saying she is going nowhere unless courts prove otherwise. The demos which have run for over three months since June, and which have been characterised by violence, looting and destruction of property, have left at least two people—including a child—dead, and many injured.
It is an open secret that the demos were being infiltrated by cadets with the sole purpose of causing violence to give the protests and their organisers an uncomplimentary tag. Others that have been populating the protests are the thousands of disenfranchised and jobless youths who have nothing valuable to do. The demos were therefore a respite from boredom and gave them a platform to express their anger against the regime.
Seething with anger and incensed with hate speeches from the powers that be, this cadre was also a ticking time bomb waiting to explode into bloody anarchy and mayhem at the slightest provocation. Indeed, lawlessness is what each and every protest snowballed into. The demos created a political impasse which had a domino effect on the economy disrupting businesses and leaving people, mostly self-employed, in small scale vending, poorer every day.
Of note, however, is that demos have succeeded in sustaining, energising and growing a fighting spirit among the opposition supporters. The opposition leaders have openly been supporting the protests. The opposition, with an established and well defined political constituency, was the de facto force behind the demos including bankrolling them. The leaders have been alternating between attending proceedings in court and patronising the demos.
After the candidates have spent millions of kwacha on campaign, one can imagine the pain when MEC comes round again and stops the very polls it was advised to delay in the first place. MEC has also thrown our (taxpayers’) money in the water for the preparations it did for the postponed polls. Did someone say MEC fits the Chichewa word Nkhutukumve?
MEC was told in no uncertain terms before it launched the campaign for the by-elections to delay the polls until the political atmosphere changed for the better. But because this MEC only believes in listening to itself, it ignored all the advice. Now, justifiably, everybody is furious with it. Those who have taken MEC to court seeking compensation for the millions they have spent on the aborted elections, are 100 percent right.
This back and forth on the part of MEC and failure to take good advice earlier simply because it came from the opposition, has eroded the little trust that some people still had in the organisation.