Army intervention must end with free, fair polls

HARARE - Last Wednesday, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) seized power from President Robert Mugabe in an intervention, that was cleverly worded.

The takeover was staged initially to target the “criminals” around the 93-year-old but is now demanding the ouster of the autocratic and corrupt Mugabe regime and its replacement with a creature that we are still to see.

The blacks and the whites, the poor and the wealthy, the young and the old, the blind and the dumb, the hype and the meek, the week and the strong, all joined hands in an unprecedented street march on Saturday that attracted thousands in a call for freedom and democracy after three decades-plus of rule by the Zanu PF dictator.

Mugabe’s imminent fall has sparked a wave of celebrations around the country and Zimbabweans in the diaspora.

Military intervention was the only available option to shepherd this tortured nation through the tumultuous transition process to democracy because other methods of democratisation have been blocked by the deeply unpopular Mugabe regime.

As the teetotaller stubbornly refuses to relinquish his stronghold in this interregnum, Zimbabweans have heaped praise on the military for serving peacefully, patriotically and responsibly as a caretaker to the State.

But the military must ensure a transition that is credible in the eyes of the people.

The Zimbabwean military seizure appears to break the traditional mould of military coups. This is not a quintessential military coup d´etat — French for “stroke of the State” — where military officers abuse public trust and overthrow the existing regime, not to bring about structural regime change, but to concentrate power in their own hands as dictators.

Zimbabwe’s military intervention does not fit within this traditional, anti-democratic model.

Although all coups have anti-democratic features insofar as they place the military in power by force or the threat of force, Zimbabwe’s is clearly more democracy-promoting as the military has responded to popular opposition against an authoritarian or totalitarian regime, and is moving to overthrow the repulsive Mugabe regime.

But, if the army overthrows Mugabe, it must urgently facilitate fair and free elections within a short span of time.

The intervention must successfully transition Zimbabwe’s authoritarian regime to a democracy. This intervention, for it to be successful, must lead to dispute-free elections, given that other paths to democratisation like the 2008 polls have been blocked by the authoritarian or totalitarian Mugabe regime, curiously using the same military that is now overthrowing the incumbent.

The very institution created by Mugabe to protect him amassed sufficient power to become a potent threat to his unbridled rule.

Clearly, this state of affairs is a result of Mugabe — in his dotage and under disastrous influence of his overbearing wife Grace, who was drunk with power and was dreaming to be president.

The military has now turned its weapons on the very regime that empowered its existence, unleashing its coercive power to topple the Mugabe government and stop his unpopular designs for a dynasty.

If this intervention results in free and fair elections, it will result in the military being highly respected within the nation.

The seizure must end with the transfer of power to democratically-elected leaders. This democratic intervention we are witnessing is the exception, not the norm.

It is absolutely important that after this process, the military return power over to the people.

In other words, the military, after this operation, must allow an inclusive governing council comprised of elected representatives, not military officers, to run the process of transition to democracy.

Although Zimbabweans have been united by the common cause of ending the 37-year rule by Mugabe, the crowds in the streets on Saturday seemed to lack a coherent blueprint for achieving democratic reform and rarely saw far beyond the singular goal of the overthrow or resignation of the autocratic Zanu PF leader.

Zimbabweans must insist on elections in the shortest possible time. We thank the military for answering the people’s call for regime change.

But free and fair elections —the sine qua non of democracy — must be held in the shortest time possible.

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