We do not favour any candidate in Zimbabwe elections, says US diplomat

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President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
PHOTO: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP
  • A US diplomat met with a top civilian official from Zimbabwe's defence ministry to discuss the elections.
  • The US is concerned the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill is a threat to democracy.
  • It wants the best man to win a free and fair election in Zimbabwe.

The US has no preferred choice in the upcoming general elections in Zimbabwe, and it has sought an audience with the military to guarantee it will not interfere in civilian politics.

This was revealed by Robert Scott, the deputy assistant secretary for southern Africa, in an interview from Washington, DC, after the completion of his visit to Eswatini and Zimbabwe in early March.

The upcoming elections will be the second after the 2017 putsch.

The first, held on 31 July 2018, was controversial, with allegations the ruling party rigged the polls with the help of the military.

However, in court, the opposition at the time, the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance, failed to present its case, and Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner.

READ | Opposition parties in Zimbabwe eye 'silent majority, fringe voices' to unseat Zanu-PF

This year's elections will see opposition leader Nelson Chamisa leading the rebranded Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) against Zanu-PF in what is expected to be a two-man race.

But the US wants to see a deserving winner become president, not a particular candidate.

Scott said:

We do not support any politician or any political party. What we support is a strengthening of institutions that allows citizens of a country to express their will in democratic elections to choose their leaders.

He met with key stakeholders in the upcoming elections in Zimbabwe from the opposition, government's foreign affairs, justice and home affairs ministries, civic society, and the military because "it was an opportunity for me to learn about the situation on the ground".

From his engagements, Scott said, so far, the playing field ahead of elections was not level particularly with the threat of the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill, which seeks to regulate operations of civic society and NGOs.

"There's a sense the bill, the chilling effect of that there has been a tightening of political space, [and] that we have seen the harassment of opposition members, the inability to check the voters roll - all those things combined make it difficult for elections to be successful. So, we engaged on that."

Mnangagwa is yet to sign the bill into law.

Last week, he held consultative meetings with a section of civic society operating in Zimbabwe.

Scott had a meeting with the permanent secretary in the ministry of defence, Aaron Nhepera.

Despite not being a military man, Nhepera served as a deputy director in the Central Intelligence Organisation and later joined the ministry of home affairs as permanent secretary before joining the defence ministry.

As such, having held senior positions in ministries that oversee the operations of state security arms, he is a key figure in Zimbabwe.

"Our point was very consistent the military should not appear in this process [elections], that any sense that the military was involved in the streets, that has an incredibly chilling effect for democracy.

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"I think it's very consistent with international standards [military staying away] and the aspirants of any country to hold peaceful, transparent, and inclusive elections," Scott said.

The military's first open-handed interest in Zimbabwe's politics, despite years of behind-the-scenes approaches, was during the November 2017 coup that catapulted Mnangagwa to power and introduced Vice President Constantino Chiwenga to civilian politics.

Numerous other military men who played key roles in the coup, such as the late Lieutenant-General Sibusiso Moyo, also left the army for politics.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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