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ZANU-PF Sees Police as Captive Vote

Fears that postal ballots cast by uniformed services will be misused.
By Joseph Nhlanhla
Zimbabwe’s security forces have been deployed in a campaign of intimidation and violence against opposition supporters. Now the police are themselves in the spotlight, as ZANU-PF election strategists try to ensure that officers vote en masse for President Robert Mugabe, who is contesting a second-round election against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

An inside source in the police told IWPR that the almost 30,000-strong force had come under pressure to back Mugabe. The source, an assistant inspector in Bulawayo who spoke on condition of anonymity, said personnel had been instructed to use their postal vote without fail.

Police are allowed a postal vote when they are serving away from home.

“We were told that Mugabe already has [secured] about 28,000 votes from police officers, and whoever decided not to ask for their postal ballot would be dealt with,” said the officer.

He said police officers had been informed that failure to cast their ballot by post would leave them vulnerable to what he described as “torture we already know”.

“We cannot even think of how to escape this. Resigning from the force is not one of the wisest things to do right now,” he said.

In the March 29 election, postal voting proved contentious, with critics arguing that the process was open to manipulation.

The parliamentary ballot handed a majority to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, but the presidential election conducted simultaneously produced what electoral officials – after a long delay – said was an inconclusive result that necessitated a second round.

In the first round, some members of the security forces chose not to cast their votes, as a way of registering their discontent.

Although top commanders of the various services are among Mugabe’s most hawkish supporters, many rank-and-file members are increasingly disgruntled with their pay and conditions in Zimbabwe’s hyperinflationary economy. Desertions from the uniformed services have increased in recent years, and many have joined the exodus of public-sector employees to neighbouring countries. (For a report on unhappiness in the army, see Keeping the Military on Side, AR No. 166, 11-Apr-08.)

The assistant inspector added that he understood the directive had been extended to the army, air force and prison services, all of which come under the powerful Joint Operations Command, JOC. If this happens, it could provide a captive vote numbering about 100,000, possibly enough to secure the presidency for Mugabe.

However, a senior journalist, who did not want to be named, argued that postal votes are not easy to manipulate. Like conventional ballot papers, they are secret, he said, “so it is difficult to see how the police can be forced to vote for Mugabe unless there is outright interference and the ballots cast are simply replaced with those in favour of Mugabe on their way to whatever command centre they are destined for.”

The JOC has taken charge of the day-to-day running of the country and is set on ensuring that Mugabe retains power whatever the cost.

The first round was conducted in an atmosphere unusually free of violence, but since then, the regime’s disappointment with the results has sparked a wave of violence in which the police and army have been deployed alongside ZANU-PF activists and paramilitary groups.

Human rights organisations say more than 30 people have been killed so far, with thousands of others displaced.

Many of the attacks have been in areas once regarded as ZANU-PF strongholds but where the opposition won surprise victories. The violence has principally targeted the MDC’s activists and supporters on the ground, and the aim is clearly to remove its ability to mobilise in these areas and coerce voters into switching back to Mugabe in the second round. (For a report on this, see Attacks to Create No-Go Areas for MDC, ZCR No. 145, 06-May-08.)

As well as the police and military, prison services chief, Paradzai Zimondi, is said to be actively involved in the campaign. Last week, the Zimbabwe Peace Project group alleged that ZANU-PF militias were operating out of Zimondi’s home in Mashonaland East province.

ZANU-PF’s election strategy is reportedly being run by party hardliners like Emmerson Mnangagwa, with JOC commanders providing men on the ground as well as involving themselves in the day-to day running of the country.

Dumiso Dabengwa, a former Zimbabwean interior minister who is now a ZANU-PF dissident, recently told journalists in Bulawayo the country was being ruled by a de facto military junta. The suggestion that the JOC, not Mugabe, is now in charge following the first-round fiasco, has also been made by the MDC and other critics. (For a report on unhappiness in the army, see Military "Running" the Country, ZCR No. 143, 24-Apr-08.)

Tsvangirai returns to Zimbabwe this week after a six-week diplomatic tour, and this is likely to mark the beginning of another bruising bout of election campaigning.

Joseph Nhlanhla is the pseudonym of a reporter in Zimbabwe.

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