Malawi in turmoil amid calls for resignation of electoral agency head


BusinessDay and Agencies

Blantyre — Post-election protesters in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe have set on fire a police armoured vehicle and a police officer’s house.

Demonstrators also grabbed teargas launchers from officers. The protesters in the morning gathered around Simama Hotel in the city as they prepared to march to Capital Hill.

However, law enforcers attempted to disperse the protesters by firing teargas, igniting running battles between the angry demonstrators and the police.

The police’s action against the demonstrators was done in the belief that the protests were illegal since organisers, Human Rights Defenders Coalition, did not get permission to hold protests today and tomorrow.

Malawian authorities are bracing for more violence as thousands of people gathered in the streets of the country’s main cities to demand the resignation of Jane Ansah, the head of the Malawi Electoral Commission, whom they accuse of overseeing a rigged vote in May.

The election returned President Peter Mutharika to power — a result that has sparked four previous demonstrations and is being challenged in court by the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the United Transformation Movement (UTM). Previous protests have turned violent and the government has said the police lack the capacity to manage them.

The nation’s attorney-general Kalekeni Kaphale sought to bar Tuesday’s demonstrations on the grounds that they were a security threat and infringed other citizens’ rights to work, but the high court in the capital Lilongwe ruled they could go ahead.

Organisers want to attract 1-million people to protests in each of the four main cities, said Timothy Mtambo, chair of the Human Rights Defenders’ Coalition, which is organising the latest demonstrations.

Protesters in Lilongwe set a police vehicle alight on Tuesday morning after the security forces fired tear gas at them in an apparent attempt to stop them from marching, Times Radio reported.

Several business, including Kenyan Airways and pay-TV company MultiChoice, said they would close on Tuesday and on August 8, when the appeal against the election result will be heard.

The electoral commission declared Mutharika, the leader of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, the winner of the May 21 election with 38.6% support in the “first past the post” race.

Lazarus Chakwera, who heads the MCP, was said to have secured 35.4% backing. UTM leader Saulos Chilima, who was Mutharika’s deputy in the previous administration but quit last year in protest at the government’s perceived failure to clamp down on graft, won 20.2%.

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