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Comment: Electoral laws should protect citizens

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We reported on a raft of changes to the electoral laws which are being considered by government.

The government is seeking to enhance the legal framework governing elections to, among other things, enhance the role of police officers in maintaining law and order during elections.

There are proposals to reform the laws to allow for the appointment of special police liaison officers and special investigation committees in provincial centres to expeditiously deal with cases of politically-motivated violence or intimidation in each province.

The special liaison officers would be senior police officers, to be appointed by Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri and would work closely with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and a multi-party liaison committee during the election period.

Such measures would always be welcome, considering Zimbabwe’s history of bloody elections and a number of cases which the opposition says have remained unresolved from 2000 to date.

The appointment of the special liaison officers is therefore expected to ensure that all cases of electoral violence are dealt with within a reasonable time and culprits are brought to book.

While the setting-up of structures to deal with violence is laudable, as has been highlighted by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, it is important to note that electoral violence in Zimbabwe does not normally take place on polling day.

Therefore, deploying huge numbers of police officers on polling days which are usually peaceful does not address the violence that takes place before and after polling.

Electoral violence has taken place before and after elections and the police have been accused of failing to protect citizens.

It is therefore important that any law dealing with electoral violence should address issues of selective application of the law to ensure greater protection of citizens in the pre-polling, polling and in the post-polling periods.

This requires political will and professionalism on the part of law enforcement agents. Opposition parties and civic society organisations have accused the police of selective application of the Public Order and Security Act, especially in areas to do with voter mobilisation and the right to assemble.

There are many cases of electoral violence that have remained unresolved even though perpetrators are well-known.

The most notorious such case was in April 2000 when Tichaona Chiminya — the MDC candidate’s campaign manager — and Talent Mabika, a member of the MDC drama group, were burnt to death when their vehicle was stopped and petrol-bombed by Zanu PF agents and CIO operative Joseph Mwale.

At the time of the killings, the perpetrators were driving the Zanu PF candidate’s vehicle. To date, Mwale has not been brought to book despite a ruling by Justice James Devitte ordering the police to investigate the individual.

What is required therefore is a complete change of approach by the law enforcers in dealing with cases of electoral violence.

They should make sure they do not look at cases of violence with political lenses. In fact, law enforcement agents should during elections be deployed solely for the purpose of ensuring peace and protection of the public and property.

As long as there are claims that law enforcers are partisan, the proposed reform would merely be academic. We need peace during elections.

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