The refusal by organizers of the planned January 17 demonstrations to engage in dialogue with the government over the concerns being raised has attracted mixed reactions from the civil society.

Some leaders of the civil society and opposition political parties are questioning the motives behind the demonstrations.

Rafiq Hajat of the Institute for Policy Interaction (IPI) and Billy Banda of Malawi Watch, feel there are some hidden agenda in the process.

The two were part of the organisers of the historical July 20 demonstrations, which left at least 20 people dead.

Their comments follow remarks by the organisers, that they are not ready for dialogue with the president, and that they are going ahead with the demos.

In his comment, Billy Banda says demonstrations remain a last resort in any situation.

“We have learnt that they are not even ready for dialogue which assured us that there could be some invisible influence or hidden agenda, which perhaps we cannot be part of it,” said Banda.

“Many people will suffer; property and lives of people will be in jeopardy. Let them opt for dialogue we are also asking president Banda to make a statement and call for people to discuss. She could be very ready to address the concerns, but she might not able to resolve all those issues in a space of time.”

And Hajat says he is yet to be convinced to support the protests.

“I am not involved because I have some reservations which have not been answered yet. You may remember that last year we drafted a petition which listed the issues that we are demonstrating about and we also listed alternatives or solutions,” said Hajat.

“I don’t know whether any petition has been drafted or solution been offered. If the objective is to destabilise the government then you will create a vacuum which is extremely dangerous,”

Speaking in Capital fm Straight talk programme on Thursday, president of the Malawi Democratic Party (MDP) Kamlepo Kalua described calls for the people to demonstrate as a voice of destruction.

“We didn’t call for that massive demonstration in three months or nine months of late Bingu wa Muntharika’s administrations. But, we did that eight years of his administration because we saw that something was wrong, and not moving,” said Kalua.

PAC sees no problem

However, the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), a religious grouping, have backed for going ahead with their plans despite snubbing the dialogue arguing it’s within their constitutional right to hold the protests.

Speaking to capital fm PAC publicity secretary Maurice Munthali says people have the right to demonstrate as guaranteed by the country’s constitution.

Munthali says “there is nowhere in the constitution where it is stipulated that demonstrations should only be conducted when dialogue has failed”

He has since appealed to those planning the demos to ensure that the protests are conducted in a peaceful manner.

6 point petition

The organizing committee, under the leadership of Consumers Association of Malawi, John Kapito has drafted a six point petition that they want the Joyce Banda administration to resolve.

Among the issues include stoppage to the floating of the kwacha; reduction of presidential and cabinet travel; sale of presidential jet, reduction of presidential convoy and Mercedes Benzie cars for ministers; address corruption issues; declaration of assets by the president and vice president ; reduction of cabinet and executive arrogance.

They feel the resolutions to these petitions will lessen the social and economic hardships that Malawians are facing at the moment.

The organisers, speaking when they addressed journalists vowed to go ahead with their plans to take to the streets next month.

The organizers have ruled out dialogue on the issue, saying the government should just respond to their concerns.

They also claimed to have massive support from Malawians in various parts of the country.

Meanwhile, there is still division amongst members of the public over their participation in the protests.

One section argues taking to the streets will not solve the problems, but rather lead to loss of life and property, while another section feels the hardships are just too much to bear, accusing the authorities of playing politics in their situation.

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ZIMENE MUMAKONDA

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