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Tsvangirai under pressure over arrests

TWO more staffers in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s office were arrested yesterday after the premier’s four other senior aides were picked up on Sunday for allegedly impersonating the police and being in possession of documents that breach the Official Secrets Act.

Report by Brian Chitemba

The arrests are a direct challenge to the MDC-T leader to flex his political muscle to influence processes and events as well as electoral preparations ahead of crucial polls expected mid-year.

Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba could not immediately comment, but Tsvangirai’s spokesperson Luke Tamborinyoka confirmed that two caretakers at the premier’s communications office were arrested by police.

Tamborinyoka wrote on his Facebook page: “Two caretakers at the Prime Minister’s communications office at Bath Road, Spiwe Vera and Elizabeth Banda, were this morning picked up by police detectives at the communications office at 14 Bath Road in Avondale. Lawyers are on their way to Harare Central police station.”

On Sunday, police swooped on the same offices and arrested director for research in the prime minister’s office, Thabani Mpofu, Felix Matsinde, former councillor Warship Dumba and Mehluli Tshuma for allegedly impersonating police officers and obtaining information on several ministers’ alleged corruption in violation of the Official Secrets Act.

Their lawyer Beatrice Mtwetwa was also arrested for allegedly obstructing the course of justice.

On Wednesday they were all remanded in custody to April 3.

The arrests are widely seen as a slap in the face for Tsvangirai (pictured) who has lately been expressing optimism over prospects of free and fair elections, while appearing to be cosying up to President Robert Mugabe.

Tsvangirai has claimed he has an agreement with Mugabe that whoever wins the elections would take over graciously, while the loser accepts defeat without dispute.

He also said Mugabe had agreed to rein in security service chiefs. Further, Tsvangirai recently exonerated the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) secretariat – which his party charges is staffed with pro-Zanu PF personnel with a security backgrounds – of rigging the 2008 elections, while blaming “underhand forces” for the disputed polls despite that senior MDC-T officials are still demanding that they be flushed out.

Events on the ground show security forces loyal to Mugabe are still arresting and harassing MDC-T members and allies, after launching a crackdown on non-governmental organisations, further bringing into question Tsvangirai’s power in the coalition government and his remarks on Zimbabwe being on course for free and fair elections.

Contrary to Tsvangirai’s claims, the escalating arrests and intimidation also suggest the forthcoming elections could lack credibility.

The latest developments appear to vindicate fears recently expressed by Botswana President Ian Khama, a fierce Mugabe critic, who said he did not think there would be free and fair elections in Zimbabwe because perpetrators of previous violence and manipulation of elections were still there.

“I have not seen any evidence that they have changed their attitude towards trying to ensure that Zanu PF will emerge victorious,” Khama said. “So I think that they are still capable of trying to engage in intimidation, deploying the security services to bring that about.”
While the referendum was peaceful, there are indications of a resurgence of systematic repression and terror.

On March 8, police charged Zimbabwe Peace Project director Jestina Mukoko for allegedly leading an unregistered organisation under the Private Voluntary Organisations Act, and with smuggling into the country radios and mobile phones. Police also raided Radio Dialogue in Bulawayo and seized radios which they claimed were smuggled into the country.

Last month 12-year old Christpowers Maisiri, son of an MDC-T aspiring MP for Headlands was burnt to death by alleged Zanu PF thugs. There were also incidents of violence in the run up to the referendum, suggesting there could be an upsurge of repression and violence leading to the watershed elections.

Recent poll surveys indicate the “fear factor” is still dominant in Zimbabwean electoral politics. They say it arises from political violence and intimidation, and would have a negative impact on free and fair elections.

The Freedom House survey last year said 66% of respondents admitted “fear of violence and intimidation make people vote for parties or candidates other than the ones they prefer”.

Another survey by Afrobarometer said high incidents of violence and intimidation fundamentally affect the credibility and legitimacy of elections. In that survey 72% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that “each time Zimbabwe comes to important political decisions, violence and intimidation surface”.

The surveys show there is consistency in the level of belief that violence and intimidation resurge when Zimbabwe comes to important political events, especially elections, and that this impacts negatively on electoral choices and outcomes.

Presidential elections in particular tend to be more violent, given the enormous powers of the presidency under the current constitution and even the new constitution, as well as various legislation.

Zimbabwe’s electoral history is fraught with violence, intimidation, fraud, and ballot-stuffing, hence disputed polls and the current political stalemate.

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