Barely a day after women in politics issued an ultimatum, President Peter Mutharika and Malawi Police Service (MPS) swiftly moved into action, condemning political violence and arresting two suspected perpetrators.
But while opposition political parties, notably Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM, have accused the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of unleashing the rising terror through its youth cadets, the President fell short of condemning his party’s followers for the vice.
The reaction from the President and MPS came a day after women in politics issued a seven-day ultimatum to authorities to arrest the perpetrators of the violence or face street protests that will culminate into petitioning Mutharika, Inspector General of Police Rodney Jose, the Office of the Ombudsman and the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC).
The women, drawn from a diverse political parties, including DPP, also asked the President to condemn the political violence
In a statement signed by presidential press secretary and spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani, the President said he noted with concern acts of violence that have caused disorder as the country approaches May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections.
He said he was worried that some of the violence was targeting women and he would, therefore, not tolerate any violence, whether political or purely criminal in its motive.
In the statement, Mutharika also condemned the continued killing and abduction of people with albinism and urged Malawians to value life of everybody.
Reads the statement in part: “The President, as a He-for-She champion, will not tolerate any acts deliberately calculated at humiliating women on the political space and creating politics of anarchy.
“The President, therefore, reiterates his New Year’s Day call to all citizens to reject savage politics of insults, attacks and hatred. Instead, Malawians should continue to promote and defend belligerently issue-based and nation-building politics”.
Mutharika has since asked Malawians to join hands in the fight against violence and desist from politicising violence that occurs in the country.
He has also directed police to act decisively, within the order of the law on any form of violence.
In a related development, police have arrested two men on suspicion that they assaulted UTM Party members, including undressing a woman in Mangochi, on Sunday.
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera identified the suspects as Adam Masitala, 28, and Rajab Assan, 38, both from Ntagaluka Village, Traditional Authority Chowe in Mangochi.
He said police were still tracking down other suspects.
In the Mangochi incident, Veronica Katanga, 32, and her UTM Party colleagues were seen in a video clip being victimised by suspected DPP operatives. The clip went viral on the Internet on Sunday.
In the clip, the woman and some men were seen being ordered to take off their branded UTM Party T-shirts with the portrait of the Vice-President Saulos Chilima emblazoned on the chest. The woman was also seen covering her exposed bra with a cloth (chitenje) offered by well-wishers
The Mangochi incident was one of the cases of rising political violence and intimidation, mostly targeting UTM and MCP.
In an interview on Wednesday, 50:50 Campaign Management Agency team leader Viwemi Chavula commended police for arresting the two suspects.
But he asked police and other law enforcement agencies to act without waiting for public outcry.
Said Chavula: “This is a very important step to arrest the suspects. We expected police to do so. But the only problem is that police and other duty bearers wait for people to present their petition. Let us make the whole playing ground to be levelled.”
Reacting to the arrests, Women Lawyers Association Malawi president Sarai Chisala echoed Chavula’s sentiments that police should not wait for people’s action before arresting the violence perpetrators.
She said her organisation is not impressed with the “robbery with violence” and “insulting the modesty of a woman” charges police have levelled against the suspects, as the provisions will not send a strong message to violence perpetrators.
UTM Party secretary general Patricia Kaliati also welcomed the arrest of the two and said she was optimistic that police will investigate those who assaulted Mulanje South legislator Bon Kalindo last week.
Meanwhile, United Democratic Front (UDF), which is in a working relationship with DPP in Parliament, has distanced itself from the allegations that some of the perpetrators of the violence are its members.
The party has also condemned the Mangochi incident.
In a statement released on Wednesday, signed by UDF vice-president for Eastern Region Lillian Patel, the party said it was disturbed that some had the audacity to assault a fellow human being.
DPP spokesperson Nicholas Dausi, who is also Minister of Homeland Security, earlier this week also denied that DPP members were unleashing violence, claiming the perpetrators were masquerading as DPP youth cadets.
The Tuesday news conference was the first time women in politics from across the political divide came together to condemn political violence. Their effort came after their party leaders committed to end violence.
The conference was held under the theme ‘I refuse to be undressed and beaten for participating in politics. I say no to political violence’.
MPS has come under fire, especially from opposition parties, civil society organisations and Malawi Law Society, for turning a blind eye to cases of political violence notably against the opposition sympathisers.