There is mist over tomorrow’s United Transformation Movement (UTM) rally at Nyambadwe Primary School ground after Blantyre City Council (BCC) yesterday refused to grant the movement permission because it is not registered.
But in an interview yesterday, UTM spokesperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga said the grouping—led by the country’s Vice-President Saulos Chilima who broke ranks with the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and declared he will challenge President Peter Mutharika in the presidential race in the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections—is yet to officially get the BCC communication.
He said: “We have not received the communication. If the letter is authentic, we will also need to find out why we are being persecuted as UTM because everywhere we go we are attacked. If it is not violence then our issues are rejected.”
BCC public relations manager Anthony Kasunda confirmed that the letter is from the council and that they have indeed rejected the request by UTM to hold the rally in Ndirande Township.
Malunga wondered why the council has taken so long to respond to their request which the party sent almost two week ago.
On registration, Malunga said their legal team is working tirelessly to register the party and will hang on until they finish the registration process.
In the letter dated September 27 2018 addressed to UTM national chairperson Noel Masangwi and signed by the council’s director of administrative services Lytton Nkata on behalf of BCC chief executive officer Alfred Chanza, he said the movement could not be granted permission to proceed with the rally because it is not a registered political party.
The BCC response came barely a day after it emerged that the Registrar of Political Parties had rejected the movement’s application to register as a party for allegedly flouting the law by seeking to register using its abbreviation UTM instead of the full name ‘United Transformation Movement’.
In a letter to UTM following its application, Deputy Registrar of Political Parties Chikumbutso Namelo said the use of the abbreviation instead of the full name was a deliberate scheme to mislead the registrar because there is another registered political party with a similar sounding name.
The deputy registrar was apparently referring to United Transformation Party (UTP) registered by businessperson Newton Kambala who earlier announced his partnership with UTM at the movement’s rallies but has not committed to deregistering his party.
In an interview with our sister newspaper, Weekend Nation, Kambala said: “The arrangement has been that UTM is a rebrand of UTP.”
In the letter dated September 21 2018 addressed to Ritz Attorneys, the law firm representing UTM, Namelo said he would have made a decision not to register the party using Section 7(b)(ii) because it would resemble a name of a registered party.
The referred to Section 7(b)(ii) of the old Political Parties Act as amended in 1996 states that the registrar may refuse to register a political party if he is satisfied that the name “so nearly resembles the name of a registered political party or a political party whose registration has been cancelled”.
Section 18(a)(i) of the Act states that any person who furnishes any false or misleading information “is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine of K2 000 and imprisonment for 12 months”.
Reacting to the development, University of Malawi Chancellor College political scientist Ernest Thidwa questioned the justification of the BCC decision to bar the movement based on its registration status.
He said: “In my view, the BCC decision is based on a faulty premise. I do not think booking of a rally venue has anything to do with having a party registration certificate. Anyone can book a venue for rally or any type of gathering whether religious or social.
“The machinations by the council exposes the invisible hand of government. This is unfortunate and the UTM should be strategic to weave through this cobweb.”
Catholic University-based political analyst Nandini Patel called for consistency, observing that UTM was previously granted permission to address rallies, including in Blantyre, despite not being registered and wondered what had changed now.
Chilima officially launched UTM at Masintha ground in Lilongwe on July 21 and the movement has since been criss-crossing the country, including Njamba Freedom Park in Blantyre on July 29 after BCC granted them persmission, canvassing for support.
In the letter, the registrar has warned the movement that electioneering when it is not registered is an offence under the Political Parties Act. The offence is liable to a fine of K2 000.
In 2003, some elements within the then governing United Democratic Front (UDF) unsuccessfully thwarted attempts by Brown Mpinganjira to register his National Democratic Alliance (NDA) when they registered a political party in the same name then later changed it to New Dawn for Africa in another attempt to stop the registration after the High Court intervened.
In 2011, People’s Party (PP) started by the country’s then vice-president Joyce Banda also had trouble registering the party when the Registrar of Political Parties rejected the application on the grounds that the abbreviation was too similar to that of People’s Progressive Movement (PPM) and Maravi People’s Party (MPP).n