Senior Zimbabwe army officer tells troops to vote for Mugabe

May 31st, 2008 - 8:58 pm ICT by admin  

Johannesburg/Harare, May 31 (DPA) A senior army officer has told soldiers in Zimbabwe’s 35,000-strong army that they have to vote for President Mugabe in next month’s run-off in presidential elections, according to the state-controlled Herald Saturday. It quoted Major-General Martin Chedondo as saying that voting for Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, would be to “sell out to the British and American imperialists”.

Tsvangirai won the most votes in the presidential election March 29 but was denied outright victory because, according to official results - which were withheld by the state-run electoral authority for five weeks - he failed to win more than 50 percent of the vote as prescribed by electoral law.

“The constitution says the country should by protected by voting, and June 27 in the presidential run-off, pitting President Mugabe against Morgan Tsvangirai, we shall therefore stand by our commander in chief (Mugabe’s ceremonial position),” Chedondo said at an army marksmanship contest Friday.

“Soldiers are not apolitical,” he went on. “Only mercenaries are apolitical. We have signed an agreement to protect the ruling party’s principles of defending the revolution. If you have another thought, then you should remove your uniform.”

He said soldiers were “faced with the choice to protect the country’s revolution and heritage or sell out to the American and British imperialists by voting for Tsvangirai”.

The Herald said Chedondo was standing in at the function for Lieutenant-General Phillip Sibanda, the commander of the army.

Before the March elections, General Constantine Chiwenga, the commander of the armed forces declared that he would refuse to salute Tsvangirai if he won the presidential ballot.

And the head of the prison services, Paradzayi Zimondi, ordered prison officers to vote for Mugabe and his ZANU(PF) party, while this week police commissioner-general Aguustine Chihuri indirectly referred to Tsvangirai as “a puppet”.

However, Chedondo’s remarks were seen as the most blatant show of determination by the armed forces to keep the 84-year-old Mugabe in power.

Military sources say senior army officers enjoy great privileges and perks, including large farms, cheap access to hard currency and free vehicles, and most of them are wealthy businessmen.

Observers said Mugabe’s regime was swinging rapidly away from legal and democratic requirements as the run-off nears.

What human rights organisations say are secret assassination squads have been held responsible for the murder of at least four key MDC grassroots activists in the last two weeks.

There has also been a wave of violent intimidation in mostly rural areas where over 50 people have been killed and thousands savagely assaulted, mostly by militias of Mugabe’s ZANU(PF) party.

Several just-elected MDC MPs have been arrested and police have banned scores of meetings by churches and civic organisations. State media have totally excluded Tsvangirai from any coverage in the election campaign, apart from denigrating him.

On Thursday, Mugabe’s 44-year-old wife, Grace, declared that even if Tsvangirai won the run-off, “he will never set foot in State house”.

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