KARONGA (MalawiTalk) – Minister of Homeland Security Mr Richard Chimwendo Banda , who is also Malawi Congress Party (MCP) director of youth was accused by people of Karonga North West constituency of using state apparatus to give cash handouts to the electorate ahead of the parliamentary by-election on Tuesday, a move which triggered political violence.
UTM Party supporters and MCP officials – who are all in Tonse Alliance government – were involved in skirmishes.
Video clips which have gone viral on social media show people of Karonga accusing Chimwendo Banda and other MCP officials inclusive the party’s vice-president Mr Harry Mkandawire of giving out cash-handouts to the electorate in a last-ditch attempt to canvass for votes despite the Political Parties Act of 2018 outlawing the practice.
Police arrested UTM Party director if youth (North) Mr Mzondi Mkandawire for the violence but spared MCP cadres who also were in violent acts. Mkandawire was released from police custody on bail.
He said police has pressed charges of “malicious damage.”
But he blamed the violence on MCP supporters and also accused the party led by Chimwendo Banda of giving cash handouts.
But Karonga Police officer-in-charge Tiyese Chiumbuzo said the police are conducting further investigations into the matter.
He said: “Indeed some identified UTM Party supporters raided Lovemore Lodge and Pacific Lodge where they smashed four vehicles belonging to MCP and injured five people in the process. Our officers have intensified a manhunt to arrest the perpetrators”.
Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) asked the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC ) to ensure enforcement of the law on handouts to level the playing field.
“Our demand to MEC, therefore, is to apply the law as they are mandated by bringing the culprits to book and, above all, making sure that these by-elections are conducted in a manner that respects and upholds the law,” reads the HRDC statement issued previously.
Chimwendo Banda has denied giving out handouts, saying he was only wooing voters.
Section 41 (1) of the Political Parties Act provides that a candidate, political party or body or any person contesting or intending to contest in an election under this Act, shall not at any time issue a handout.
The Act further states that a person contravening the law will be liable to a fine of K10 000 and a five-year jail term.
Malawi Elections Commission (MEC) Commissioner Dr. Anthony Mukumbwa said the electoral body does not have any legal mandate over handouts that candidates offer to voters.
Mukumbwa described the violence in Karonga as very disappointing.
MEC will hold parliamentary by-elections in Karonga North West, Ntchisi North West, Lilongwe Msinja South and Zomba Changalume constituencies as well as local government by-elections in Liviridzi Ward in Balaka West Constituency and Chitakale Ward in Mulanje South Constituency.
The electoral body will on the same day also hold fresh elections in Nsanje North, Nsanje Central and Chikwawa East following nullification of the May 21 2019 Parliamentary Elections in the respective areas over irregularities.
Besides the handouts, political parties and candidates were also defying public health guidelines, including the restriction on public gathering to 50 people, to curb the further spread of Covid-19. There has been no observance of physical distancing, wearing of face masks or use of hand-washing facilities at most of the crowded political rallies.