Even as Zimbabwe's troubled national unity government moves slowly to institute broad reforms of everything from the constitution to elections to media to human rights, the country's electoral landscape is becoming increasingly militarized despite calls by the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change for security sector reform.
Political tensions are rising in the eastern battleground provinces of Manicaland and Masvingo as a number of retired and serving members of the army launch election campaigns though no date for the country's next ballot has been set.
Members of both the MDC and President Robert Mugabe's former ruling ZANU-PF party have expressed concern at what looks like a militarization of politics in the provinces.
Despite ZANU-PF’s traditional close ties with the military, the party is deeply divided over the extent of military involvement not only in the electoral process but in office-seeking.
The civilian side of the party says only provincial executive members and those who have held positions in ZANU-PF's structures for at least five years from local cell up to provincial levels or higher should be allowed to run for office.
But another faction led by Defense Forces Commander Constantine Chiwenga and fronted by ZANU-PF National Commissariat Director Henry Muchena, a retired air vice marshal, says retired army personnel should be exempted from such requirements.
Secret nominations of army representatives have added to intra-party friction.
Former officers selected to run in Masvingo include Retired Colonel Claudius Makova, Retired Colonel Mutero Musanganise, Retired Brigadier Livingstone Chineka and Retired Colonel Daniel Shumba. Manicaland candidates include Retired Major General Mike Nyambuya and serving army members Colonel Morgan Mzilikazi, and Air Commodores Innocent Chiganze and Romeo Mutsvunguma, among others.
Retired Major Bernard Mararire told VOA Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu that he is running for a seat in Parliament and no one can stop him.
Makoni South legislator Pishai Muchauraya, spokesman for the Tsvangirai MDC formation in Manicaland, accused the army of using state resources to terrorize villagers.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe National Army Commander Lieutenant General Philip Valerio Sibanda has defended the deployment of soldiers in rural areas around the country, saying troops are engaged in regular training and not aiding ZANU PF campaigns ahead of elections as alleged by the media, non-governmental organizations, and the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
The MDC wing has called for the reversal of recent military deployments in rural areas.
Sibanda told the state-controlled Herald newspaper, essentially a ZANU-PF mouthpiece, that soldiers are helping the Health and Agriculture ministries in rural areas. He said for example that troops deployed in Rusape, Manicaland, have been doing river-crossing training and not harassing ZANU-PF opponents as has been charged.
For perspective, VOA reporter Sithandekile Mhlanga reached former Zimbabwe National Army Captain Max Mnkandla, president of the Zimbabwe Liberators' Peace Initiative, who said deployment of soldiers in rural areas is not new, but local residents are concerned because of previous incidents of harassment by members of the armed forces.
Godwin Phiri, secretary general of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations, said his group has received numerous reports that soldiers are harassing those perceived to be opponents of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF.