POLICE chief Augustine Chihuri has demanded a reversal of sweeping electoral reforms agreed to by coalition government partners and suggested that police maintain a presence in polling stations as well as the postal voting system seen as aiding vote rigging, the Zimbabwe Independent can reveal.
Chihuri, who has repeatedly been named by rights groups and political parties as involving the police in electoral irregularities, wrote to the co-Home Affairs ministers, Kembo Mohadi and Teresa Makone on July 26 protesting against the agreed electoral reforms.
Coalition government partners appear determined to hold a general election next year and the spotlight is now on how they handle changes to the country’s discredited electoral framework.
The Attorney-General’s Office is working on a draft of the Electoral Amendment Bill agreed to by the coalition partners in 2009 for tabling before parliament.
“We have had occasion to go through the Electoral Amendment Bill and note with concern that it proposed to remove police personnel from the enjoyment of the postal ballot, as is the current position, as well as kick out police presence from the polling station,” reads part of Chihuri’s protest letter. “The proposed amendments as they pertain to police operations will cause a high probability of insecurity in the country and mar any elections held under such conditions.”
The Zimbabwe Independent has a copy of the letter, which was copied to Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), and Home Affairs ministry permanent secretary Melusi Matshiya.
Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena yesterday refused to discuss contents of the letter, saying it was part of the force’s confidential information.
“We understand the position taken on the Bill and that it emanates directly from the Global Political Agreement. It is our submission as an organisation that the proposed changes to the Electoral Act as spelt out in the Bill leave the nation at the height of vulnerability,” reads part of the letter.
Chihuri recommended that two police officers be present inside polling booths. He also wants police officers to continue enjoying the right of voting under the postal voting system despite complaints that his organisation has been abusing this privilege to force police officers to vote for Zanu PF.
Zimbabwe’s police pose an intimidating presence among many citizens because of its history in rights abuses and open support for Zanu PF, a party accused of using state security agents and violence to remain in power since independence in 1980.
International and local organisations, including those that have observed past elections, have accused the police of aiding intimidation and harassment by refusing to arrest perpetrators of violence. Police officers have in some instances been named as orchestrating the actual violence against perceived opponents and critics of Mugabe.
Political parties and human rights groups accuse the police of failing to take tangible action against Zanu PF militias and junior and top military personnel who led a brutal campaign on behalf of Mugabe before and after the unsuccessful June 2008 presidential poll run-off. Tsvangirai says the violence left at least 200 of his supporters dead and hundreds of thousands others displaced.
Under the current Electoral Act, police officers are entitled to vote under the postal voting system because they will be on duty on voting day. Implementation and management of this provision has attracted widespread condemnation, especially after reports that junior and senior officers were ordered to vote for Zanu PF under the watchful eye of their commanders in the 2008 elections.
Proposed amendments presented by Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa as agreed by inter-party negotiators in July last year limit the postal ballot system to “only to those officers outside the country on state duty”.
The changes will, however, allow police officers to vote two days before the election day under the supervision of electoral officials and election observers.
Chihuri says this time frame is too short and will disrupt the force’s election deployment plans.
He proposes that police officers be allowed to vote 30 days before the actual polling day “in the worst-case scenario” to cater for logistical issues such as deployment.
“It has been brought to my attention as Commissioner General of Police that there are claims, alleging that commanders, who in the current scenario act as presiding officers, have been accused of leaning on members to persuade them to vote for a particular party or candidate. Most importantly, these allegations are bare and have not been substantiated,” Chihuri wrote. “We suggest that the commanders may even be removed from the voting process in preference to presiding officers.”