Policing elections

Bright Nundwe, the Copperbelt permanent secretary, has told police commissioner Elias Chushi to be brave as the country is in an election year.

He says the province is very delicate when it comes to election time.

“We are already in the year of elections and I demand that you and your team on the Copperbelt are expected to be above board in the execution of your duties as the police chief and your team,” says Nundwe.

Is Nundwe asking the police, for once, to act in an impartial manner? Is he confirming that police have not been performing above board?

Is impartiality possible under the PF government? What does above board mean in this case where police have been intimidated, abused and are now perceived to be PF police?

But this is long overdue – Zambians need their Zambia Police Service back to doing its constitutional duties, responsibilities.

And over the years, elections in this country have become delicate – volatile. Violence, intimidation and abuse of the police by those in power to weaken the opposition have been the common feature.

As a result, the police as a pillar and custodian of democratic principles find themselves in a challenging position of defining their role within the new democratic dispensation.

Remember that because police are the most visible face of government power for most citizens, they are expected to deal effectively with crime and disorder and to be impartial – producing justice through the fair, and restrained use of their authority. As such the standards by which the public judges police success have become more exacting and challenging.

Wesley Skogan and Tracey L Meares, in Lawful Policing, state that, “Police compliance with the law is one of the most important aspects of a democratic society. […]expect the police to enforce laws to promote safety and to reduce crime, victimisation, and fear, but no one believes that the police should have unlimited power to do so. We expect police to enforce laws fairly according to law and rules that circumscribe their enforcement powers. The existence of these rules justify the claim that police are a rule-bound institution engaged in the pursuit of justice and the protection of individual liberties, as well as the battle against crime.”

Ahead of the 2011 elections, the UNDP/GRZ noted in a project document: ‘Election-related programme of support for training for law enforcement agencies’, that: “Whilst Zambia has managed to meet its international and national obligations in so far as holding regular elections, they have not been without their challenges…Zambia has seen an escalation of violence before, during and after elections. In order to prevent violence occurring there’s need to build the capacity of the Zambia Police to effectively deal with any politically related conflict that falls within its mandate[…] One of the major challenges Zambia faced during the previous elections is violence before, during and after elections. This has shifted attention on how elections are policed in Zambia. Elections are premised on the existence of free volition manifesting itself in various forms of political expression. The policing of an election process may thus constitute the basis upon which the structural and institutional framework of the development process of a country maybe measured with a view to designing appropriate intervention methods to support democratic development. Political participation however, can only be enjoyed in meaningful and in practical ways if it yields to the full uninhibited enjoyment of basic human rights including but not limited to peaceful assembly, free expression, association and movement. The unrestricted exercise of these rights at all material times during an election period may be termed the minimum core necessary for the exercise in meaningful and practical ways of the right to take part ‘in the government of his country’.”

There’s no doubt our country needs not just brave police officers but those that can apply the law fairly without succumbing to intimidation from politicians, especially those in government. Indeed, police have a crucial responsibility to ensure security so that citizens can elect their leaders under a peaceful atmosphere devoid of corruption, fraud, fear, coercion, intimidation and violence.

Unfortunately, the current government has reduced our police officers to mere PF cadres who censor themselves from doing what is right even before anyone censures them. If they try to follow the law, they are threatened with ‘retirements in national interest’ by Edgar Lungu himself – a very unfortunate situation. Like we have said, we demand our professional Police back.

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