The police’s conduct during the ruling party’s primary elections has once again lifted the lid on the inappropriate relationship that exists between Zanu PF and the law enforcement agency, heightening calls for the reformation of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) beyond cosmetic changes introduced in the past five months, the Daily News can report.
To his credit, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has promised to deliver free and fair polls around July/August this year and has been ringing changes in the ZRP since assuming the reins of power last November, has reacted angrily to the brazen conflation between the police and some politicians in his governing party, witnessed during the just-ended Zanu PF primary elections.
After some tongue-lashing from Mnangagwa, the Daily News can report that police bosses panicked, and yesterday they commenced a workshop to train their personnel on how the force should conduct itself before, during and after the general elections to avoid falling afoul of the law and discrediting the ballot.
In the past, Zanu PF rivals have complained bitterly about the partisan role of the police and other State security agents in the ruling party’s electoral campaigns and general management of the elections.
This week, Zanu PF officials turned on each other after police officers were implicated in electoral malpractices alleged during the party’s primaries, in violation of their constitutional mandate.
While the police are meant to be apolitical, reports indicate that members of the ZRP, Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and the Air Force of Zimbabwe were deployed by their bosses to manage the distribution of ballot boxes and papers during Zanu PF primaries.
In some cases, police officers assumed the role of polling officers, checking cell registers and overseeing the voting process.
Civic rights group and Zanu PF opponents have rightly expressed their disgust at the abuse of state resources on ruling party business and expressed fears that the continued conflation between State actors and their rivals may not produce a free and fair electoral outcome.
On Wednesday, Mnangagwa issued a statement acknowledging the use of State security agents and police officers in Zanu PF’s internal polls and strongly condemned the practice.
“Any such instances, which might have occurred in the just-ended party primary elections would amount to a breach of Zanu PF policy and certainly a flagrant violation of the laws of the land which must be roundly condemned and stopped forthwith,” he said.
“Let it be known that conflation of party and State institutions as might have happened in the past will not be allowed under the new dispensation where the electoral playing field must be seen to be fair and even,” Mnangagwa added.
Yesterday, while addressing a train the trainer workshop convened by the ZRP in conjunction with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) in the wake of the fallout in Zanu PF, the chairperson of the electoral management body, Priscilla Chigumba, said their respective institutions were significant in shaping perceptions of fairness and ultimately the credibility of the polls.
“There are reports from previous elections where the relationship between the electoral and police officers could be best described as acrimonious as the former felt as if the latter was there to oversee the running of the election. There are also reports of police officers who were openly demanding electoral statistics from polling officers then radio them in the full glare of the public and observers,” said Chigumba.
“We do not know where these statistics were being channelled to but we know they were not being sent through the Zec structure. Such behaviour has thus created an impression that the Zec and ZRP are devious players in the electoral field. It is not surprising that one of the electoral reforms that has been brought before Parliament intends to redefine the role of police officers at the polling stations. We cannot afford to have this happen during the 2018 harmonised elections because it sends the wrong signal to the observers as it undermines the independence of Zec”.
The workshop, according to Chigumba, marked the beginning of a journey between Zec and the ZRP, in creating an environment for delivering a credible election.
Addressing the same workshop, ZRP commissioner-general Godwin Matanga said the force was acutely aware of its obligations and its contribution to the holding of free, fair and credible elections.
“To this end, the impartial enforcement of all the laws is fundamental to contributing to such an envisaged environment. Dealing decisively with all forms of violence will impact positively on the outcome of the impending elections,” he said.
Yesterday, the circus in Zanu PF spawning from the heavily contested primaries continued, with angry party supporters besieging the ruling party national headquarters in Harare yesterday.
They made it clear that they will vote for the opposition if the contentious primary elections, which were marred by several irregularities were not reversed.
The supporters, some coming from as far as Mt Darwin, waved placards — insisting their preferred candidates should be given a second bite of the cherry lest they will vote against Zanu PF.
The ruckus has seen the Zanu PF commissariat department burning the midnight oil to contain the fallout.