BLANTRYE, MALAWI - Malawi protesters have rejected a call by former President Bakili Muluzi to suspend street action to allow for talks to end further election-related clashes. Protesters have been calling for the Malawi Electoral Commission chairperson to resign over alleged fraud since President Peter Mutharika’s May re-election.
Muluzi, who was Malawi’s president from 1994 to 2004, urged protesters late Tuesday to halt months of demonstrations so he could mediate with government authorities over May’s contested presidential election. He invited the main protesters’ group, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition, to his home in Blantyre to discuss the issue.
“Please, I want to plead," he said. "Would you not give me, say, seven days, so that I have time to travel to Lilongwe, meet these people about the issue you are raising? But if you take a hard line, [chuckles] you know, I don’t think it will help anybody.”
But protesters rejected the offer and maintained their call for twice-a-week street action to force Electoral Commission chairperson, Jane Ansah, to resign.
Human Rights Defenders Coalition Chairperson Timothy Mtambo led the talks.
“We respect our former head of state," he said. "But as we have spoken time without a number we do not believe in manipulative dialogue. We have strongly advised that demonstrations in itself, it’s not a problem it’s a constitutional right. However, the problem is that Jane Ansah is refusing to resign.”
The protesters accuse Ansah of fraud in declaring Mutharika the winner of the May election with 39 percent of the vote.
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.
The MEC maintains the election was free and fair.
But ongoing protests set the stage for further clashes with security. On Sunday, the headquarters of the main opposition Malawi Congress Party in Blantyre, which is seeking annulment of the elections, were burned to the ground.
A dangerous direction
Muluzi told reporters he fears the violence is moving the country in a dangerous direction.
“We must also accept that these demonstrations have caused a lot of economic hardships, you know that," he said. "The shops get closed, the bank's not open, there are so many things. I am again appealing to you; could the demonstration on Thursday be postponed?”
Political analyst Vincent Kondowe says with continued protests and no dialogue, Malawi will head toward anarchy. He says Mutharika, Chakwera, and Chilima need to reach a compromise.
“Even if the court came in today and said, 'well, the elections were conducted in a proper manner', the political disagreements will continue. So, for me the best way is for the leaders to agree to have a re-run because even Peter Mutharika himself agrees that the elections were messed up. He has been speaking this in different political rallies that he has conducted.”
But Malawi authorities have dismissed re-running the election.
Meanwhile, protesters plan to hold demonstrations and vigils Thursday in all of the major cities, which city authorities are heatedly rejecting.