Zimbabwe: Chihuri's Vote Calls Undermine Mugabe

In December last year Police Commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri sent a cable to all police stations urging all members of the force to register as voters so they could vote in the crucial elections supposed to come sometime this year.

Many commentators saw this call by the top policeman as going against the Police Act that prohibits serving policemen from participating in politics. However, Chihuri's action was defended by analysts across the board including, interestingly, one of the two ministers of Home Affairs and a director of an election watchdog.

In his defence the commentators said policemen like all other citizens have the right to vote and their commander was only encouraging them to exercise this right.

"There is no need to make a lot of noise over their [police] registration as voters because they have got that right ... In fact, they are supposed to be registered just like every Zimbabwean because they have that right. I do not see any reasons for complaining," said Theresa Makone, Home Affairs co-minister in defending Chihuri's call.

He was also backed by Zimbabwe Election Support Network national director, Rindai Chipfunde Vava who praised him saying, "We can't dismiss the politicking element around the call, but the police officers are entitled to vote as citizens of Zimbabwe."

But other analysts had a premonition there was something sinister in Chihuri's call.

Recent reports, which he has not denied, say that he has gone a step further and urged police officers and their spouses not only to register to vote but also to vote in a particular way, in this case to vote for Zanu PF. Now this presents problems; lots of problems!

True, members of the police force have the freedom to support any political organisation of their choice and to vote for it when the time comes. This is based on various freedoms sanctified by the country's Constitution.

And, like everyone else they are supposed to vote in secret, but what should differentiate them from the rest of us is that they should not canvas openly for the political party they support.

There are typical duties expected of a professional police force the world over.

Simply put these relate to keeping the peace, law enforcement, protection of people and property, and the investigation of crimes.

When people say politics is dirty, they understate its dark nature. Among the rank of politicians are few saints; most are thieves, murderers, thugs, hooligans, sexual perverts and, the majority, idiots. An apt description of politicians can be borrowed from Oliver Swift's Gulliver's Travels where they are described as "the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth."

If you think this is too severe a description, just take a look at what politicians have done to this country! Or, if you wish, take a look at what they have done to the world. In Zimbabwe in the past few decades politicians have broken the peace, rubbished the rule of law, killed civilians for no good reason, wantonly destroyed private property and torn property rights to pieces. It becomes obvious the police should keep out of politics.

Politicians are at their basest during election periods; that is before, during and immediately after polls, more so in Zimbabwe which has in the past 15 years experienced the darkest side of politics play out for the entire world to see.

That is why this country, more than any other needs an apolitical police force, if not to put checks and balances on the politicians, but at least to protect civilians and their property which are increasingly at the mercy of the politicians.

But the question on most people's lips is: "Why is Chihuri so desperate?"

Why is he so flagrantly violating the Police Act of which, by virtue of his position, he should be guardian?

He is shrill in his call for Zanu PF votes urging patriotism and a sense of history. Is this because he has become the most patriotic Zimbabwean and the main advocate for our sense of history? Or is he merely protecting his own turf?

Most people in the police force are about the poorest members of our society. They are civil servants and they know, like all civil servants know, that politicians have kept them in that state so they can continue to exploit them. Government workers do not enjoy the same rights that workers in other sectors do, more so in the uniformed forces also known as the disciplined forces. B

ut these disciplined forces -- the police, the army and the prison services -- have seen how the system has continued to impoverish them while those at the top have been enriched beyond measure. They know the call by their bosses for "patriotism and to remember our history" are to keep them in their place while they themselves [the commanders] continue to feed at the top table.

But the continued politicisation of the disciplined forces might turn out to be an embarrassment to one of the principals of the government of national unity (GNU) -- President Robert Mugabe. In the past few weeks he has come through as a patron keen to clean up his legacy and consolidate it.

He has begun to sing a new tune different from the one he used to sing during the heyday of our national crisis. He desires peace and wishes to see the coming watershed elections held in a free and fair atmosphere, at least that is the impression the nation is getting from his speeches.

His recent actions, especially regarding the drafting of the new constitution, also seem to suggest a new man. Zimbabweans, the region and the whole of Africa are encouraged by this new path, but partisan calls by the commanders of the uniformed forces might as well scuttle his efforts to sanitise his legacy and also to bequeath a peaceful country to his people and their offspring.

Chihuri's calls therefore might backfire in more than one way; the police rank and file will soon enough see through the self-serving nature of his call and act contrary to his wishes, while President Mugabe might feel undermined in his efforts to bring closure to the Zimbabwean crisis. His peers in Sadc and the AU obviously must be watching developments in this part of the world with renewed keenness. He cannot afford to have his legitimacy questioned once again.

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