ZIMBABWE Electoral Commission (Zec) chairperson Priscilla Chigumba has spilled the beans on the police’s alleged shady involvement in previous polls, including demanding election results and prematurely radioing them to “unknown destinations” in the full glare of observers, thereby fuelling speculation the electoral management body connived with State security agencies to manipulate the results.
BY BLESSED MHLANGA
Chigumba made the remarks in Harare yesterday at an election management training workshop organised for police officers ahead of this year’s general elections.
“There are reports from previous elections, where the relationship between electoral and police officers could best be described as acrimonious, as the former felt as if the latter were there to oversee the running of the election,” she said.
“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. We do not know where these statistics were being channelled to, but we know they were not being sent through the Zec structures.
“Such behaviour created an impression that the Zec and the ZRP are devious players in the electoral field.”
Chigumba said this behaviour was the bedrock for demands for electoral law reforms.
“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 polling stations,” she said.
“We cannot afford to have this happening during the 2018 harmonised elections because it sends the wrong signal to the observers, as it undermines the independence of the Zec.”
The opposition MDC-T has, in the past, cried foul over the police’s alleged selective application of the law, where they appeared to be biased in favour of Zanu PF.
The opposition party is currently lobbying for amendment of the Electoral Act to ensure that serving and former State security agencies were not part of the Zec secretariat.
Chigumba said retired soldiers, police and intelligence officers constituted about 15% of Zec’s 375 workforce.
Speaking at the same event, Police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga ordered his officers to discharge their duties in a professional manner before, during and after the general elections to maintain peace and order while upholding the integrity of the polls.
“While the high level of interest generated both locally and internationally concerning the need for the country to hold free, fair, transparent and credible elections cannot be ignored, any failure on our part as police to professionally discharge our duties and responsibilities will go against the grain of proclamations made by His Excellency, President [Emmerson] Mnangagwa that this year’s elections will be peaceful, free and fair,” he said.
Matanga said the police force was investing in training its officers so that they were up to the task when deployed for elections to avoid leaving things to chance.
“Indeed, it is an inherent part of being a democratic nation that questions do arise regarding police behaviours if everything is left to chance,” he said.
“Hence, the need for us as police to be fully prepared, as we discharge our legal obligations in support of the country’s electoral process.
“As an organisation, we are making every effort to ensure that we discharge our duties without fear or favour throughout the election period.”
Matanga also launched a police election handbook to guide the law enforcement agents when confronted with tricky situations during elections.
“The objective of the booklet is to promote greater awareness and provide quick and ready reference material to police officers,” he said.