The commander of Zimbabwe's air force has come under fire from opposition parties and human rights groups for instructing voters in Chikomba, a village in Mashonaland East province, to cast their ballots for a ruling ZANU-PF candidate in a by-election.
The state-controlled Sunday Mail newsaper reported that Air Marshal Perence Shiri told a public meeting in the constituency that ZANU-PF is "tried and tested."
The by-election was called to fill the seat vacated by Tichaona Jokonya, the former information minister who died in office several months ago.
ZANU-PF has fielded its deputy chairman for Mashonaland East province, Stephen Chiurayi. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change faction led by Morgan Tsvangira has nominated Chivhu businessman Moses Jiri.
Attorney Tafadzwa Mugabe of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said Shiri's comments revealed show a lack of professionalism. National Constitutional Assembly Chairman Lovemore Madhuku said the military must stay out of politics.
Analysts said Shiri’s words recalled the 2002 pronouncement by then-army general Vitalis Zvinawashe to the effect that the army would not support a president who did not meet their liberation standards – an apparent reference to Tsvangirai.
Flanked by top military and police officials, Zvinavashe said that the country's security organisations would "only stand in support of those political leaders that will pursue Zimbabwe values, traditions and beliefs for thousands of lives lost in pursuit of Zimbabwe’s hard-won independence."
Intelligence and security spokesman Giles Mutsekwa of the Tsvangirai MDC faction said Shiri was not speaking for the broader officer corps, especially his juniors.