Chaos mars UTM primaries

UTM Party’s attempt to hold primary elections simultaneously nationwide yesterday failed as the polls were marred by ugly scenes of violence and unavailability of delegates in some areas, prompting cancellations in several areas.

Initially the party, whose leader is Vice-President Saulos Chilima, announced that the primaries would cover all the 193 constituencies and 462 Wards in one day, but that proved to be an impossible feat.

A UTM official leaves a polling station in Rumphi Central after being attacked

In the Southern Region, the main showdown was in Blantyre City South Constituency where two UTM national executive committee (NEC) members Allan Ngumuya—the incumbent legislator for the area and also the party’s deputy organising secretary—locked horns with UTM’s deputy publicity secretary Leonard Chimbanga and political novice Mabvuto Missi.

But it was Missi who carried the day after flooring Ngumuya 253 to 162. Chimbanga withdrew at the eleventh hour after he was allegedly assaulted by Ngumuya.

The bone of contention between the two contestants was the number of committees to vote as the constituency governor Precious Makowa accused Ngumuya of creating 43 additional parallel committees. The constituency had initially recommended 43 areas.

UTM director of elections, who is also Mwanza West member of Parliament (MP), Paul Chibingu in an interview expressed concern over Ngumuya’s move to create parallel structures and resolved that they use the areas recommended by the constituency committee.

“It’s true that we had a meeting yesterday [Wednesday] at our [UTM] regional office [South], where we agreed that the only structures the party recognises are those recommended by the constituency governor and his committee,” he said.

A similar controversy emerged in Blantyre City West constituency where UTM Southern Region governor Steve Mikaya and his challenger Biggles Katenga-Kaunda failed to agree on the 42 areas which the constituency committee recommended.

The two contestants later agreed to use 40 areas with nine delegates from each area. But surprisingly, 506 delegates voted in the primary elections instead of 360.

One of the presiding officers, Charles Malebo Mafula, declared Mikaya the winner with 423 votes against Katenga-Kaunda’s 84.

In Chiradzulu Central, Margaret Mbilizi and her supporters walked out on the elections, citing poor security, but insisted she did not withdraw from the race.

The disagreement in that constituency arose when UTM supporters demanded that they all vote unlike the party arrangement that allowed only delegates from the committee to vote.

Nevertheless, Mbilizi’s decision to snub the election did not stop her rivals Elijah Ngulinga and Tony Bwanali from proceeding with the poll, after which Bwanali won with 1 945 votes against Ngulinga’s 12.

The elections were also postponed in Mulanje South where supporters of UTM director of strategic planning Michael Usi and his rival Damson Chelewani failed to agree on the venue.

Usi’s team gathered at Chisitu claiming that was the valid venue while Chelewani’s supporters gathered at Ntenjera.

The two are competing to challenge incumbent DPP MP and Local Government and Rural Development Minister Kondwani Nankhumwa.

In the Central Region, the elections in Mchinji, Dowa and Salima districts were postponed due to various reasons.

For instance in Mchinji, there were reports that party officials earmarked as presiding officers sided with some aspirants, a move that prompted the party executive to call off elections.

But in Salima North West, the vote was postponed mainly to allow embattled former Malawi Congress Party (MCP) legislator Jessie Kabwila to participate in the process on grounds that she is new to UTM.

UTM district governor for Salima, Langireni  Mapulesi, said the primaries were cancelled in all five constituencies of Salima North, Salima East, Salima South East and Salima Central to give Kabwila time to familiarise herself with UTM structures.

There was also drama in Nkhotakota South where one aspirant Kidder Mkolora declared himself winner after accusing a fellow contender Nellie Banda of ferrying to the venue ineligible voters. But in a twist of events, Banda also declared herself winner of the elections.

Voting was also postponed in Dowa and Likoma, where delegates did not show up for voting.

In the Northern Region, the sequence was also similar, with some areas experiencing violence while many other areas equally had the polls postponed due to similar disagreements over the composition and number of delegates.

In Mzuzu City, the primaries delayed by nearly three hours after owner of the initial venue, Frank Mwenifumbo (Alliance for Democracy-Aford)—who is also Karonga Central MP—refused to grant UTM delegates permission to use it.

Said Mwenifumbo: “They asked if they could use the place and I accepted. [UTM regional governor for the North Leonard] Njikho asked me late yesterday [Wednesday] but you know that is a business place. Someone who wants to occupy the place felt it would not be ideal if the place is used for political events.”

The delegates later moved to Mbachenda ground where incumbent MP Leonard Njikho, deputy Mayor Alexander Mwakikunga and businessperson Justice Chimaliro faced off.

When voting time came, Njikho’s followers claimed their candidate had won the polls, chanting songs of victory even before the voting process had started.

At first, Njikho blatantly claimed to have won the elections, although there was no counting. But Chimaliro and Mwakikunga both said voting never took place and no one could claim to be winner, describing the chaos as “total nonsense”.

The candidates were later locked in a meeting with presiding officer John Kanyika on the way forward. Kanyika later recommended that there should be a rerun and all candidates agreed.

In Rumphi Central, presiding officer Damson Gondwe alongside deputy UTM regional governor for the North Afiki Mbewe had to run for their lives after some ‘unqualified’ delegates wanted to vote, resulting in chaos. The race was among Bon Lungu, Patrick Mzumara and Norman Nyirenda. 

Mbewe said in an interview that they were stoned, and even whipped, so much so that Gondwe had to be treated as an out-patient at Rumphi District Hospital. 

He said: “If security had not come on time, the situation could have been worse. Some people who came were not delegates, they just wanted to vote. So, when we told them that we would be verifying names of eligible delegates, they got angry and started beating us up.

 “The only sure thing was to postpone the polls to a later date, and that is what we did. My friend Gondwe has been treated at Rumphi Hospital.”

In Nkhata Bay South where incumbent MP Emily Chinthu-Phiri went unopposed, it was peaceful, just like in Nkhata Bay North where shadow MP Chrissy Kanyasko also went unopposed.

However, primaries were postponed in Nkhata Bay Central, Nkhata Bay West and Nkhata Bay North West constituencies, according to  deputy district governor Simon Mkolongo.

“It was a bit chaotic in Nkhata Bay North West because we were supposed to have 1 900 delegates, but as many as 4 000 delegates came. It was so confusing that we couldn’t go on with the primaries because that meant we had people who were ineligible voters. We may conduct the primaries on Friday or Saturday,” said Mkolongo.

On Likoma Island, the primaries were shifted to January 8 2019 to accommodate a candidate who is currently in Lilongwe. 

In Mzimba North East, Karonga Central and Chitipa Central, incumbent legislators Olipa Chiluba Muyaba, Lawrence Nthakomwa and Moses Mlenga, respectively, went unopposed while primaries for other areas in Mzimba were yet to be concluded by press time at 6pm.

Felix  Katwafu Mwakayira triumphed in Karonga North West while Luwani Msowoya, daughter to Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya, went unopposed in Karonga Nyungwe.

Commenting on the general conduct of the primaries, Chibingu said the party was excited and satisfied with the way it has handled the polls in one day, saying it was unprecedented.

He, however, said it might take time for the party to receive results from all the constituencies that held the primary elections.

“We do not have the complete figures, so far we have results from six constituencies,” he said.

Asked why the party did not hold the primaries in all constituencies as earlier announced, Chibingu said some constituencies were affected by rains which made roads impassable.

Meanwhile, political analyst George Phiri of the University of  Livingstonia has described the chaotic scenes in the party primaries as  a sign that many people want to join and represent UTM in the forthcoming polls.

“This shows that many people are interested in the party. What is wrong is the violence. People should know that in an election, one wins and others lose. So there has to be tolerance.

“That said, I also want to question the management of these polls. What were the expectations of UTM? Did they share that with those managing the polls?” he wondered.

On her part, Mzuzu-based political commentator Emily Mkamanga said it would be practically difficult for the party to hold the primaries at once unless there were other stakeholders helping them.

Two major parties in the country, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), are still struggling to conclude the primary elections nationwide months after commencement; however, UTM has defied all odds and held the elections in one day.

Additional reporting by: jonathan pasungwi, andrew nyondo, george singini, mike van kamande, holyce kholowa, and mec stringers

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