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‘Stay Out of Politics,’ Zimbabwe Army Told Ahead of Crucial Elections

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has questioned the Zimbabwe National Army’s ability to explicitly stay clear of the southern African country’s forthcoming election –  regardless of its outcome.

In an interview with News24, Senior researcher at ISS, Derek Matyszak said that there was need for the Zimbabwean military to stay clear of politics if the country was to hold a credible election.

“It is important that the military publicly announces its pledge to stay clear of politics regardless of the election results. They have often been meddling in politics in the past and have just recently done that when they stepped in last year,” said Matyszak.

The Zimbabwean army played an important role in getting President Emmerson Mnangagwa into power last year, as they launched a brief take over from then president Robert Mugabe.

The military temporarily took control of the country on November 15 when internal feuding escalated in the ruling Zanu-PF party over then president Mugabe’s succession.

The takeover, which the army said was targeting Mugabe’s corrupt allies came days after the 94-year-old leader had fired then deputy Mnangagwa who had strong military ties and was widely tipped as the likely successor.

Mugabe’s wife Grace had indicated interest in succeeding her husband.

The army’s intervention was followed by mass street protests against Mugabe and a motion to impeach the veteran ruler who resigned in a letter to parliament as proceedings to recall him began.

“The military’s involvement in politics is a worrisome issue because they have been meddling with the country’s politics for the past decades. In 2008 they made it clear that they were not going to back any leader without any liberation credentials. And they have also made it clear in the past seven months that they are the final arbiters in the country’s politics. So their announcement to stay clear of the election will be important,” said Matyszak.

Matyszak said that at this stage it was really tough to say whether the military would pledge their support to an opposition party led government.

Threat that hangs on the electorate

He said although Mnangagwa may guarantee a free and fair vote, it remained unclear how much influence he had within the military regarding an unforeseen elections outcome.

In recent months, opposition parties claimed that at least 5 000 soldiers had been deployed to rural areas ahead of elections in July.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party as well as the recently formed National Patriotic Front (NPF) claimed that Mnangagwa had deployed the soldier throughout the country’s rural areas “in a sinister move to scare villagers into voting for the ruling Zanu-PF party”.

Both parties said this as they demanded the demilitarisation of the villages.

“Mnangagwa is confident of winning the election now, but should he not win these polls, it is really tough to know whether the army will accept those results. So the threat that really hangs on the electorate is whether there will would be respected in the coming elections,” said Matyszak.

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