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Arresting electoral violence

Written by  Steve Chirombo
Chikwawa Diocese Vicar-General, Fr. Cosmas Chasukwa, Pic by Steve Chirombo -Mana Chikwawa Diocese Vicar-General, Fr. Cosmas Chasukwa, Pic by Steve Chirombo -Mana

Chikwawa, April 23, 2019: For people of Nsanje Lalanje Constituency, October 17, 2017 by-election is one scenario among many where political violence marred electoral process.

Due to political intolerance among some supporters of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Malawi Congress Party (MCP), violence emerged; there were fights between supporters of the two parties.

Some of the supporters were arrested for perpetrating violence prior to and during the by-elections.

Fast forward to the year 2019, in Chikwawa Central, the United Transformation Movement (UTM) primary elections for ward councilors registered some violent scenes.

One aspiring candidate openly splashed cash to voters who queued to vote for another candidate.

This did not go down well with the other contestant whose supporters got angry leading to commotion.

There were running battles with some people fleeing the polling centre. Others had to rescue their vehicles from being vandalised.

Chikwawa Nkombezi has had its nasty scenes of political intolerance among parties as well as candidates. Some people were beaten others intimidated for holding different political views.

But such incidents are not supposed to occur in Malawi being a country that practices multiparty politics.

It is against this background that the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) under Chikwawa Diocese recently engaged different stakeholders from the two lower Shire districts to discuss electoral violence.

The CCJP believes that engaging duty bearers can help prevent political violence in times of elections.

With support from Catholic Relief Services (CRS), CCJP held meetings with two key groups of religious and traditional leaders from Chikwawa and Nsanje on Electoral Conflict Management Process before and during elections.

Chikwawa CCJP’s Diocesan Secretary Lewis Msiyadungu said most politicians tend to manipulate the leaders to win their favours and that of their followers.

He said the tendency hampers the electoral process and infringes other people’s freedom of conscience and association.

Msiyadungu urged all religious and community leaders to ensure the country conducts peaceful tripartite elections in May this year.

“In any electoral process, conflicts are likely to happen. So we have brought these people together to discuss how best to curb political violence.

“We may have these meetings now and again as one way of monitoring the electoral process as we go towards the 2019 May tripartite polls so that our elections are free and fair,” Msiyadungu said.

The CCJP challenged traditional leaders during the meeting at Kukhala Motel in Nchalo, Chikwawa, to level the playing field and desist from taking bribes to favour particular political candidates.

“Basically, we engaged with the chiefs and religious leaders to see areas that would bring out conflicts and, at the same time, map the way forward on how best to resolve conflicts.

“As you know, during campaign, stakes are high as politicians approach traditional and religious leaders seeking their favours.

“This throws the leaders into a fix since they’re perceived as taking sides and practicing partisan politics,” explained Msiyadungu.

The religious leaders also deliberated on the dangers of taking sides and the importance of resisting any manipulation by politicians.

They said the church being a place that promotes unity, peace and love, there is need for the leaders to be exemplary in civic educating their subjects to maintain peace in the electoral process.

Sheikh Abdullah Shati of Nsanje Mosque and Reverend James Mingu of Chikwawa Mitole CCAP thanked CCJP for the meeting saying it would prompt religious leaders to make bold decisions to achieve violent-free polls in May.

On his part, Senior Chief Malemia of Nsanje hailed the meeting as timely, saying it would go a long way in preventing conflicts during pre-election and post-election period.

Malemia, however, said not all chiefs get corrupted to favour some political parties or individual candidates.

“Chiefs who stand their ground and resist corruption often get intimidated and it’s a pity that such chiefs choose to suffer in silence as there’s no platform to voice out their concerns,” Malemia said.

He added that it is high time traditional leaders set up their own council that could handle their grievances when faced with threats and intimidation from politicians.

Senior Chief Ngabu of Chikwawa admitted that some chiefs snub some political parties in favour of others. 

“The tendency has been there since we attained multiparty politics in 1993. But it’s regrettable on our part and we need to change for the better,” Ngabu said.

He called on National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE) Trust to liaise with the district council authorities to revamp the multiparty liaison committee.

“In the absence of this committee, chiefs and other stakeholders fail to know what the code of conduct is all about,” the senior chief said.

NICE Trust’s Chikwawa District Coordinator Joseph Chamambala, however, called on chiefs to be impartial whenever giving access to political parties or independent candidates to conduct their rallies.

“Chiefs who openly show their partisan biases end up igniting conflicts since they’re deemed to belong to a particular party; be it the ruling or opposition,” Chamambala said.

“There is need for independence of traditional leaders in terms of how they can transact their business; they need to be apolitical,” he said.

Chamambala further said apart from chiefs, faith leaders are also targeted by politicians who “exploit their weaknesses and bribe them.”

“Critically, politicians know the weakness of religious leaders and abuse them on that regard; it appears they (religious leaders) overlook this fact and, instead, embrace a ‘Let’s-eat-from-them’ syndrome.

“It’s a give-and-take situation and, at the end, you will find that they compromise electoral credibility,” he added.

On his part, Chikwawa Diocese Vicar-General, Father Cosmas Chasukwa, said chiefs and religious leaders were key stakeholders to holding violence-free and credible elections; hence the need to engage them in electoral processes.

“If they’re well-informed and become exemplary by resisting bribes, they can exert positive influence in the whole electoral process as we move towards May 21 elections,” Chasukwa said.

The Vicar-General, however, disclosed that some chiefs complained about being forced to take bribes and intimidated by party officials from across the political divide.

“Let’s not intimidate each other; let's be together and united as peace loving Malawians,” Chasukwa said.

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