The Malawi Electoral Commission staff members work to tabulate and tally votes heavily guarded by military personnel at the tally centre following the country’s May 2019 tripartite elections, in Blantyre, Malawi. Picture: AFP/AMOS GUMULIRA
The Malawi Electoral Commission staff members work to tabulate and tally votes heavily guarded by military personnel at the tally centre following the country’s May 2019 tripartite elections, in Blantyre, Malawi. Picture: AFP/AMOS GUMULIRA

Blantyre — Tens of thousands of Malawians gathered in the streets of the main cities on Tuesday to demand the resignation of Jane Ansah, the head of its electoral agency, which they accuse of helping to rig an election to keep Peter Mutharika as president.

The disputed May vote has sparked four previous demonstrations and is being challenged in court by the opposition Malawi Congress Party and the United Transformation Movement. Previous protests have turned violent and the government has said the police lack the capacity to manage them.

Protesters looted stores and clashed with security forces in the capital, Lilongwe, on Tuesday. Several police cars were torched. The demonstrations, organised by the Human Rights Defenders’ Coalition, drew more than 100,000 people in Blantyre, the commercial capital.

The protests have galvanised the opposition and together with the court case, starting on Thursday, are a major threat to Mutharika’s presidency. While the former law professor made headway in boosting the economy, improving infrastructure and containing inflation in his first term, he drew criticism for failing to do enough to tackle corruption in one of the world’s least-developed nations.

The nation’s attorney-general, Kalekeni Kaphale, sought to bar the latest demonstrations on the grounds 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.

Dead air

Late on Tuesday, the government banned all live broadcasts and phone-in programmes by radio and TV stations, saying these were illegal in terms of a law that came into effect on June 28.

UTM leader Saulos Chilima said the protest would continue until Ansah resigned, warning that the police did not have the power to stop them.

“We have the energy and we have the people,” he told reporters in Blantyre. “We will remain in the streets until she goes.”

Several businesses, including Kenyan Airways and pay-TV company MultiChoice, were closed on Tuesday and said they would shut on Thursday, 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.

Chilima, who was Mutharika’s deputy in the previous administration but quit in 2018 in protest against the government’s perceived failure to clamp down on graft, won 20.2%.

Bloomberg