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Military to Run Election

New law allows key Mugabe allies to take prominent role in parliamentary ballot.
By IWPR Srdan

Three years after the Zimbabwean military covertly ran a presidential poll which enabled Robert Mugabe to retain supreme power in Zimbabwe, the army will again fill all the key positions for this month’s parliamentary elections – legally this time.


A new Electoral Act was signed into law by Mugabe in January that permits military, police and prison officers to staff the Electoral Supervisory Commission, ESC, and to run both the voting and the counting at 8,200 counting stations. In addition, thousands of youth militiamen and women, answerable directly to the president, will be drafted into the military before polling day so that they too can serve in counting stations.


The opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, will be allowed to place only one election agent in each of the polling and counting stations - a number it claims is totally inadequate to monitor the vote and the count properly.


The key appointment is that of recently retired army brigadier Kennedy Zimondi as chief election officer. Sources told IWPR that Zimondi and other military officers seconded to the ESC are working out of the main offices of the Central Intelligence Organisation, CIO, at Hardwicke House in the centre of the capital Harare.


“They have already finished scrutinising the voters’ roll and are now doing an intelligence appreciation of the situation before the election,” said the source.


“There are two men - Major Sibindi, from Sixth Army headquarters, and Major Kampira, from Presidential Guard headquarters - who are also involved. This duo has been working on elections since before the presidential poll in 2002. They were part of a large military network assigned [illegally] to the presidential election.”


The military, theoretically neutral but in fact loyal to Mugabe and ZANU PF, will collaborate closely with the ruling party’s National Command Centre, NCC. An ad hoc body that functions mainly in election periods, the NCC is run by ZANU PF’s national political commissar Elliott Manyika.


A new and supposedly independent Zimbabwe Election Commission, ZEC, was set up to comply with guidelines set down by the 14-state Southern African Development Community, SADC, for the conduct of a “free and fair” election. But the ZEC amounts to virtually powerless window dressing, which is anyway answerable to the real power, Brigadier Zimondi’s ESC.


“The strategy is to get people in key positions who share the hard-line attitudes of the government,” said Lovemore Mdhuku, chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, an opposition coalition of churches, trade unions and other civil society organisations. “You appoint the military because they follow orders. They will do what is required.”


John Makumbe, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe, said, “To shore up his military support, Mugabe recently gave pay rises of up to 1,400 per cent to the troops. He has also given top officers big commercial farms confiscated from white farmers by the government. The army and police services also purged and punished thousands in the junior ranks suspected of supporting Mugabe’s opponents.”


“The big issue remains what happens on polling day,” commented Eddie Cross, an MDC national executive member and economics spokesman.


“Remember what Josef Stalin said, ‘It is not who votes that counts, but who counts the vote.’ He said that a long time ago, but it remains true to this day. And this time in Zimbabwe we know who will do that because the military and the CIO are running the entire elections system.”


Chipo Sithole is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Harare.