President Peter Mutharika has come under fire from political commentators who have warned him to positively engage civil society organisations (CSOs) as they represent Malawians.
The reactions come against a background of the President ignoring a seven-day ultimatum given by CSO leaders who presented a petition to his office on September 21 after anti-government prostest in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba cities.
The President, who left on the day of the demonstrations and returned home from the United States of America (USA) on Monday this week, has since described the protests as a flop.
In separate interviews on Wednesday on the CSOs’ concerns over lack of feedback from government on their petition, the analysts said it was unfortunate that the President instead chose to attack the CSOs.
Social and political commentator Humphrey Mvula said Mutharika’s negative attitude was giving his political rivals fodder for the election campaign which would complicate matters for the President in next year’s elections.
He said: “His thinking is very misplaced. He needs to be held accountable and the CSOs are just simply doing their work. What he is doing is giving his political opponents a fodder for campaign.
“It will reduce his chances and campaign will be very difficult for him because, apart from political opponents, there will be CSOs speaking as well. He will go to the elections bruised and wounded.”
Mvula’s views were echoed by another commentator, Rafiq Hajat, who said the President should appreciate that CSOs also represent Malawians.
He said: “They [CSOs] do work in places where the government cannot reach. They play a complementary role and they should be considered as partners. The President’s attitude does not hold well for his future.”
University of Livingstonia political analyst George Phiri also said Mutharika should objectively address the issues raised by the CSOs and stop dwelling on negativity.
He said: “He must not look at the opposition side of it. Winning the elections is another thing and attitude is another thing as well, it requires strategy. But his negative attitude cannot help the country.”
The CSOs, which operate under the banner of Human Rights Defenders Forum (HRDF), have since written the President to follow up on their issues following the expiry of the period stated in their petition.
In an interview on Wednesday, HRDF vice-chairperson Gift Trapence said they plan to dispatch the letter by the end of this week.
He said: “It has been drafted and people are appending their signatures and it will probably be sent either tomorrow [today] or tomorrow. If it will not be responded to, then we will act. We will engage him through the courts or through the streets on specific issues.”
But presidential press secretary and spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani, in an interview on Wednesday, said the President does not take ultimatums and expressed surprise that the CSOs were saying they had not been responded to.
He said: “The response has always been there. The President responded through inviting the CSOs to a dialogue [before the demonstrations]. But the CSOs snubbed the talks and they say they gave an ultimatum.
“The President does not take ultimatums from anyone. The CSOs failed to honour dialogue, so it is surprising that they are coming back now.”
In their petition delivered in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba cities, the petitioners among other challenges, said the citizenry was awaiting government action in addressing the plunder of public resources, persistent power blackouts and rising unemployment.
The petition was a follow up on an earlier 10 point petition presented on April 27 this year.
Prior to the demonstrations, government extended an eleventh-hour invitation to the CSOs for dialogue. However, the CSOs pulled out of the talks at the last minute opting to proceed with the protests.
Mutharika won the May 21 2014 Tripartite Elections with a 36.4 percent vote and has, during his first term in office, faced a turbulent relationship with CSOs and opposition parties, including a breakaway faction comprising Vice-President Saulos Chilima and several former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) national governing council (NGC) members who have since formed the United Transformation Movement (UTM).
In contrast, his elder brother, Bingu wa Mutharika, impressed in his first term in which he ditched the United Democratic Front (UDF)—a party that sponsored his presidential ticket—and formed DPP which he led to a landslide presidential and parliamentary elections in 2009.