Moratorium, time for reality check

29-08-2019

The Supreme Court of Appeal issued a 14-day moratorium restraining the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) from holding demonstrations against the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson, Jane Ansah.

The moratorium came on the eve of mass protests calling for the MEC chair to stand down.

In the ruling, Justice Lovemore Chikopa called on concerned parties to sit together at the table of brotherhood and discuss ways and means to hold peaceful demonstrations.

Since the electoral dispute turned to the streets, we have seen so much violence, looting and destruction of public as well as private property.

Such a hiatus as declared by the Supreme Court is important, given that there is more that is being lost with demonstrations that turn violent.

The break gives time for both sides to resolve issues that have led to all this violence. Both sides have to do some soul-searching for they have had their own shortcomings in the whole affair.

This is the time for the ‘warring factions’ to take time and focus on the ideal future. It is given that the right to demonstrate is guaranteed in the Constitution, so the two parties have to decide how that right can fully be exercised without prejudice.

The temporary prohibition of the demonstrations should give time for all players to chew upon what has led us into all this mess. Even Ansah can use the stoppage to reflect if it is worth all the trouble sticking to the position. By the way, would parties allow Ansah handle the by-election in the Lilongwe South East constituency?

One would only wish such a moratorium does not last forever. We have seen it before that some moratoriums, like the one on gay marriages, seemingly bind forever.

By law, it is clear that where demonstrations take place, the councils, police and conveners have to sit together to ensure that the demonstrations are held with the least of destruction. This has not been happening all along. Yet, that reality check is paramount.

Before the court issued the deferral, Information Minister Mark Botomani issued a statement saying government did not grant permission for HRDC to hold the demonstrations. It is baffling what fly bit Botomani to issue such a statement, given that councils are mandated to grant the permission. The councils do not fall under Botomani’s jurisdiction.

To make matters worse, Botomani said in that statement that anybody proceeding with the demonstrations would be met with ‘necessary force’. Such empty threats are uncalled for.

It is with a similar tinge of disdain that one can look at the clips that were going round on social media. There was one particular one which showed police officers cleaning their guns, in readiness for the demos.

It is apparent that the police were really set to use force to keep demonstrators off the street. The incitement, especially from the executive, is what creates tension that spills over into violence.

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