‘Stay out of politics,’ Zimbabwe army told ahead of crucial elections

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) says the pledge from the Zimbabwe Defence Forces to stay clear of the forthcoming crunch polls was “not really significant” given the army’s past intrusive behaviour.

In an interview with News24, senior researcher at ISS, Derek Matyszak said the army should not be making “empty statements” that deny its deployment in rural areas.

He insisted that the army needed to clearly state that it would not interfere with the results of the vote.

An AFP report said Zimbabwe’s military vowed on Wednesday to stay neutral in the upcoming elections, dismissing suggestions it would deploy service personnel to influence the national polls scheduled for July 30.

The military is under close scrutiny following its brief takeover in November that led to the resignation of former president Robert Mugabe.

Previous elections under Mugabe were marred by violence, intimidation and fraud – often alleged to involve the security forces.

“What is required from the army is not a denial that they have deployed troops in support of Zanu- PF in the rural areas, but a clear statement that they will accept the election result regardless of who wins.

“This is required because of its statement in 2002 that they would not accept an MDC victory, the military intervention in 2008 stopping former MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai from attaining the presidency even though he won the election, and the military intervention in November 2017,” said Matyszak.

Matyszak said that the army’s past intervention in the southern African nation’s politics was an indication that it viewed itself as the “final arbiter of political power in Zimbabwe, and not the ballot”.

READ: ‘Stay out of politics,’ Zimbabwe army told ahead of crucial elections

Matyszak said that there was a need for the Zimbabwean military to stay clear of politics if the country was to hold a credible election.

“It is not really significant. I have not seen any clear evidence that the military have been intimidating people in the rural areas. But given their history we need a statement that they will accept the outcome of the polls, regardless of who wins,” said Matyszak.

Award-winning reporter Hopewell Chin’ono has, however, said the military’s remarks should be believed.

Chin’ono told News24 that the army’s comments were a sign that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ruling Zanu-PF party was confident of emerging victorious in the coming polls.

He added that Mnangagwa was “desperate” to please international observers who have flocked into the country after several years of absence.

In the intervening years the European Union and other international observers did not send missions to previous Zimbabwe polls as Mugabe held a firm grip on power until his downfall.

Zanu-PF certain of victory

In a move that signalled a major shift from his predecessor, Mnangagwa invited the EU and the Commonwealth among a host of foreign monitors to observe the country’s watershed vote.

In addition to observing the run-up to the elections and election day itself, the observer mission will also monitor electoral complaints that may be lodged after the elections.

“I think they mean it this time around. The president is desperate for the elections to be credible. He really does want this,” said Chin’ono.

The award-winning documentary maker said for the first time in years the ruling Zanu-PF party seemed to be certain of victory without openly coercing the voters.

He said Zanu-PF was now using other election underhand tactics such as “distributing farming equipment, giving cars to chiefs and even dishing out food parcels”.

“Zanu-PF is very confident of victory. They have money and also the command agriculture programme which, of course, is a government programme but under the Zanu-PF government.

“The thinking of an average citizen is different from me and you. We do understand these things, but to the ordinary citizen when the government delivers its programme, it’s the party that has delivered. So, rigging an election is no longer only about stuffing ballot papers in the ballot box, but everything else in between,” said Chin’ono

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Crimson Tazvinzwa

Teacher and media trainer based in the United Kingdom.

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