Malawi’s government used troops to block marches Thursday by groups protesting May’s election results. The protesters were headed to state residences in major cities to deliver a petition demanding the resignation of the head of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), Jane Ansah. They accuse her of mismanaging the May polls.
The protesters wanted to deliver their petition in person to statehouse authorities because previous petitions delivered through city authorities never reached the president.
But in a letter addressed to Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), organizers of the protests, Wednesday, city authorities said holding protests at state residences violates Malawi’s laws.
Henderson Muhango is the vice chairperson for the HRDC in southern Malawi. He said they were blocked because they had no time to challenge decision in court.
“I think it was because of the delay. We received the letter late, so we failed to challenge the decision from the council,” he said.
Muhango said they will go to court to challenge the city authorities’ decision in the next protests.
But in the capital Lilongwe, the military also blocked demonstrators marching toward Kamuzu Palace despite having a court injunction allowing the protest.
The protesters accuse Ansah of fraud in declaring Peter Mutharika the winner of the May election with 39% of the vote.
The MEC maintains the election was free and fair.
Runners-up Lazarus Chakwera and Saulos Chilima are challenging the election results in court, alleging ballot-stuffing and the use of Tipp-Ex correction fluid to change votes.
Chakwera told reporters during Thursday’s protest in Blantyre that he will not relent until justice is done.
“We will pursue the matter which is in court, and we will leave it to the judiciary to do that they know to do. But right here we are pleading and asking and requesting and demanding that those who miscarry the past election in terms of its administration have to step down.”
Thursday’s demonstrations were marred by violence.
In Lilongwe, protesters who were angry after their march toward state residences was blocked, vandalized shops and other property.
In Mzuzu city, police used tear gas in an attempt to disperse protesters. The demonstrators responded by burning a police station, a ruling party’s office, and other government structures.
Meanwhile merchants say violent demonstrations hurt their businesses.
Tinyade Maseko operates a saloon in Blantyre and told VOA that she is losing money because demonstrations frighten customers away from town.
She says she pays about $400 for rent, per three months. She also pays about $70 for her house rentals. But now she only makes about $15 a day, which means she can’t earn enough money to pay all her bills.
Meanwhile, the ministry of home affairs has asked those who have suffered injuries or property damage in the demonstrations, to report to the ministry to help them file a lawsuit against organizers of the demonstrations.
But protest organizers say should Ansah refuse to resign, they will intensify the protests to twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, until she steps down.