HARARE – Zimbabwe’s military will accept the outcome of the July 30 historic election, and will work with the winning candidate to ensure a stable transition, the Daily News can report.
Putting to rest the most open threat to date that voting for the opposition would mean voting for civil war — a message that senior officials in the ruling Zanu PF party have long been spreading — the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) told a news conference in Harare yesterday that the military will respect and accept the results of the July 30 elections.
In the forthcoming poll, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who ascended to the throne in November after a de facto military coup ended 94-year-old Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule, faces a strong challenge from 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa — an opponent who did not fight in the war against white minority rule.
Since the country’s military chiefs have previously declared that they will only back leaders who fought in the country’s 1970s war of liberation, speculation was rife that the ZDF, under Phillip Valerio Sibanda (pictured), will launch another soft-coup in the event that Zanu PF loses the upcoming general elections.
But the ZDF, through its spokesperson — Colonel Overson Mugwisi — said yesterday the army will respect the national charter.
He said: “The position of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces is that we abide by the Constitution; our conduct is going to be guided by the Constitution”.
Asked about previous remarks by senior army officials, including commander of the Presidential Guard, Brigadier-General Anselem Sanyatwe, former ZDF commander, the late General Vitalis Zvinavashe, and former ZDF commander General Constantino Chiwenga, now vice president, that the army would not accept an opposition victory, Mugwisi said there will be a “smooth handover”.
“The conduct of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces will remain guided by the Constitution; we will not change from that,” he said.
Pressed to explain why the military should be trusted to uphold the Constitution at the polls when it stepped in to overhaul a constitutional order in November, an irritated Mugwisi retorted:
“That question is very similar to what I responded to. I made (it) clear that the conduct of the military after election will be guided by the Constitution. I think we are deviating from what we are discussing.”
Asked if the command element was willing and able to salute Chamisa in the event that he wins the election, Mugwisi said: “This is the same question asked and I think I made it clear.”
He reiterated that the military will be guided by the Constitution, suggesting it will not block the transition if the opposition won.
Sections 208, 211 and 218 of the country’s Constitution, governs how the security services, including the ZDF, should operate.
The defence forces are expected to be non-partisan and professional in the discharge of their duties.
Section 211(3) of the charter reads: “The defence forces must respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons and be non-partisan, national in character, patriotic, professional and subordinate to civilian authority as established by this Constitution.”
Section 208(2) of the Constitution, which outlines the expected conduct of members of the security services, stipulates that it is illegal for the security sector to be partisan and to further the interest of a political party.
“Neither the security services nor any of their members may in the exercise of their functions act in a partisan manner, further their interests of any political party or cause, prejudice the lawful interests of any political party and that serving members of the security services must not be active members or office bearers of any political party or organisation,” reads Section 208(2) of the Constitution.
When the Press corps called the military’s bluff, highlighting that again the military ignored its constitutional mandate by deploying soldiers, military hardware and helicopters to assist Zanu PF during the ruling party’s recent primary elections, Mugwisi said “the position is clear, we do not participate in political campaigning or activity”.
Asked if he was suggesting the military personnel captured on camera flying helicopters transporting ballot boxes during Zanu PF primaries were “rogue” officers, Mugwisi did not answer the question.
He had earlier said the ZDF had no direct role in the upcoming elections.
“We are disturbed by false reports alleging that the ZDF is going to be used by Zanu PF to rig the vote,” he said.
“I want to raise concern over some individuals who mischievously and deliberately portray the execution of our mandate as participating in political campaigns. Falsehoods that have been reported include allegations of ZDF deployments in rural areas to intimidate villagers so that they support a certain political party’s chances of winning in the 2018 harmonised elections.
“We urge people who are not sure or doubt the genuine role being played by the ZDF in this election to feel free to check with us and clear their suspicions. If some serving members are participating in the on-going political campaigns, they will be doing so illegally and not as a result of an instruction from their commanders.
Those with information on such misconduct should provide us with full details of such individuals to enable appropriate disciplinary action to be taken against them.
They can also report the suspicious characters to the nearest police station,” he said.
Mugwisi also denied that the army had deployed troops to rural areas to campaign for Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF.
This comes after opposition leader Ambrose Mutinhiri, who leads the National Patriotic Front and is a former brigadier-general, claimed that 2 000 soldiers were deployed before the start of Operation Restore Legacy which ousted Mugabe and the number has since ballooned to 5 000.
Mugwisi said the only army deployments he was aware of were troops on various Command Agriculture projects, including border control operations in support of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and in some national parks in support of parks rangers.
“We have also have deployments on humanitarian de-mining activities along our country’s border with Mozambique and have artisans working on construction of community assistance projects, including public utilities such as schools, hospitals and clinics as part of our on-going social responsibility programme,” he said.
He said the ZDF will allow troops on duty on polling day to exercise their right to vote through postal ballots.
Asked how many postal ballots will be used by the military, Mugwisi said: “I can’t give a figure offhand. I don’t have that information on my fingertips.”
He also said the Constitution allowed troops to vote for any political party of their choice.
“We also have other pressing prior commitments of our members which are keeping them away from their barracks or homes where they are registered to vote next month.
Arrangements have been made for the members to vote through the postal ballot to avoid violating their voting rights on account of exigencies of military commitments,” he said.
Mugwisi said postal balloting will be accorded to troops on training commitments at the All Arms Battle School in Nyanga, the Zimbabwe Military Academy in Gweru and members proceeding to the Russian Military Games.
The military spokesperson clarified they will only assist the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) with logistics during elections.
“Our role in the elections is mainly to support the ZRP in their role of maintenance of the law and order in the country before, during and after the harmonised elections. We also remain ready to assist Zec with transport where necessary. Beyond that, the ZDF remains ready to defend our country’s territorial integrity and interests,” he said.
Opposition parties have for some time now been agitating for sweeping electoral reforms ahead of the crunch elections which they say must be held in an environment which does not promote disputes like what happened during the past two plebiscites.
This comes after the late popular MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai beat Mugabe hands-down in the hotly-disputed 2008 elections.
However, the results of those polls were withheld for six long weeks by stunned authorities — amid widespread allegations of ballot tampering and fraud which were later revealed by former bigwigs of the ruling party.
In the ensuing sham presidential run-off, which authorities claimed was needed to determine the winner, Zanu PF apparatchiks engaged in a murderous orgy of violence in which hundreds of MDC supporters were killed, forcing the former prime minister in the inclusive government to withdraw from the discredited race altogether.
Mugabe went on to stand in a widely-condemned one-man race in which he declared himself the winner.
However, the Southern African Development Community and the rest of the international community would have none of it, forcing the nonagenarian to share power with Tsvangirai for five years, to prevent the country from imploding completely.